Skip to Main Content


Information about the external world is conveyed to the central nervous system (CNS) from sensory receptors. Chemoreceptive cells for the senses of taste and smell were discussed with the digestive and respiratory system (see Chapters 15 and 17, respectively) and the various mechanoreceptors that mediate the sense of touch were presented with the skin (see Chapter 18). This chapter describes the eye, both its photoreceptors and auxiliary structures, and the ear that mediates the senses of equilibrium and hearing via mechanoreceptors in the vestibulocochlear apparatus.


Eyes (Figure 23–1) are highly developed photosensitive organs for analyzing the form, intensity, and color of light reflected from objects and providing the sense of sight. Protected within the orbits of the skull which also contain adipose cushions, each eyeball consists externally of a tough, fibrous globe, which maintains an eye’s overall shape. Internally the eye contains transparent tissues that refract light to focus the image, a layer of photosensitive cells, and a system of neurons that collect, process, and transmit visual information to the brain.


Internal anatomy of the eye.

The sagittal section of an eye shows the interrelationships among the major ocular structures, the three major layers or tunics of the wall, important regions within those layers, and the refractive elements (cornea, lens, and vitreous). (Reproduced, with permission, from McKinley M, O'Loughlin VD. Human Anatomy. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2008; McKinley M, O'Loughlin VD. Human Anatomy. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012; McKinley MP, O'Loughlin VD, Bidle TS. Anatomy & Physiology: An Integrative Approach. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2013; McKinley MP, O'Loughlin VD, Bidle TS. Anatomy & Physiology: An Integrative Approach. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2016).

Each eye is composed of three concentric tunics or layers (Table 23–1):

  • A tough external fibrous layer consisting of the sclera and the transparent cornea;

  • A middle vascular layer consisting of the choroid, ciliary body, and iris; and

  • An inner sensory layer, the retina, which communicates with the cerebrum through the posterior optic nerve (Figure 23–1).

TABLE 23–1Tunics of the eye.

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.