In the cornea, the precise organisation of fibrillar collagen and associated proteoglycans comprising the stromal extracellular matrix plays a major role in governing tissue form and function. Recently, abnormal collagen alignment was noted in the misshapen corneas of mature chickens affected by the retinopathy, globe enlarged (rge) mutation. Here we further characterize corneal ultrastructural changes as the rge eye develops post-hatch. Wide-angle X-ray scattering disclosed alteration to dominant collagen lamellae directions in the rge chick cornea, compared to age-matched controls. These changes accompanied eye globe enlargement and corneal flattening in affected birds, manifesting as a progressive loss of circumferential collagen alignment in the peripheral cornea and limbus in birds older than I month. Collagen intermolecular separation was unchanged in rge. However, small-angle X-ray scattering results suggest collagen fibril separation and diameter increase more rapidly towards the corneal periphery in rge at 3 months post-hatch compared to controls, although central collagen fibril diameter was unchanged. By transmission electron microscopy utilising cuprolinic blue stain, the morphology and distribution of stromal proteoglycans were unaltered in rge corneas other-wise demonstrating abnormal collagen fibril organisation. From a numerical simulation of tissue mechanics, progressive remodelling of stromal collagen in rge during globe enlargement post-hatch appears to be related to the corneal morphometric changes presented by the disease. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.