Purpose: To investigate morphologic changes in the posterior segment of the eye and optic nerve head (ONH) in rhesus monkeys with experimental glaucoma, and to evaluate the effect of age and vascular disease on the glaucomatous damage.
Methods: This study was conducted in 36 eyes of rhesus monkeys 11 to 24 years of age. Experimental glaucoma was produced by laser photocoagulation of the anterior chamber angle in 28 eyes, and the remaining 8 eyes served as the nonglaucomatous group. Of the 28 glaucomatous eyes, 19 belonged to animals with experimental atherosclerosis and chronic arterial hypertension (A-H group); the remaining 9 had no A-H (non-AH group). Among the 8 eyes without glaucoma, 5 belonged to A-H animals and the remaining 3 to animals without A-H. All eyes underwent IOP measurements and fundus photography before laser photocoagulation and serially thereafter for 4 to 60 months (median 22.5 months). After enucleation, eyes were fixed in formalin for light microscopic studies. Morphologic abnormalities were evaluated and graded. Correlation analyses between morphologic parameters and clinical data were performed.
Results: The highest IOP ranged from 44 to 80 mmHg, but during the follow-up period median IOP was mostly 28 mmHg (mean 27+/-4.8 mmHg). On histopathologic examination, the eyes showed moderate to severe atrophy of the temporal peripapillary choroid (67%), choriocapillaris (70%), and RPE (12%); axonal atrophy in the retinal nerve fiber layer (85%), prelaminar region (69%), lamina cribrosa (66%), and retrolaminar region (82%); fibrous septal thickening in the lamina cribrosa (77%) and retrolaminar region (86%); bowing backward of the lamina cribrosa (77%); overall tissue atrophy in the prelaminar region (81%); and retinal ganglion cell atrophy (74%). The data showed a positive correlation between the ONH damage and atrophic changes in the temporal peripapillary choroid, and suggested greater damage in animals with A-H than in those without A-H.
Conclusion: Vascular disease may influence glaucomatous damage in the ONH, as damage in the ONH was greater in animals with A-H than in those without A-H. A similar relationship also may exist between age and glaucomatous damage, but this needs to be investigated further in a larger study. It is postulated that the bowing back of the lamina cribrosa seen in optic disc cupping is produced by retrolaminar septal fibrosis and axonal loss. Although elevated IOP no doubt played an important role, the data suggest that the glaucomatous changes that were observed in this study are not simply mechanical in nature (due to the raised IOP), but may represent a multifactorial phenomenon.