Ionizing radiation and the retina

Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 1994 Jun;5(3):59-65. doi: 10.1097/00055735-199406000-00011.


This review considers the effects of ionizing radiation on the retina and examines the relationship between the natural course of radiation retinopathy and the radiobiology of the retinal vascular endothelial cell (RVEC). Radiation retinopathy presents clinically as a progressive pattern of degenerative and proliferative vascular changes, chiefly affecting the macula, and ranging from capillary occlusion, dilation, and microaneurysm formation, to telangiectasia, intraretinal microvascular abnormalities, and neovascularization. The total-radiation dose and fractionation schedule are the major determinants for the time of onset, rate of progression, and severity of retinopathy, although other factors such as concomitant chemotherapy and preexisting diabetes may exaggerate the vasculopathy by intensifying the oxygen-derived free-radical assault on the vascular cells. The differential radiosensitivity of RVECs is attributed to their nuclear chromatin conformation, their antioxidant status, and their environment. We propose pathogenetic mechanisms for radiation retinopathy and suggest that the peculiar latency and unique clinical pattern is related to the life cycle of the RVEC. A rationale is also proposed for the use of radiotherapy in the treatment of subneovascularization and age-related macular degeneration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Humans
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiation Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Radiation, Ionizing*
  • Retina / pathology
  • Retina / radiation effects*
  • Retinal Diseases / etiology
  • Retinal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Retinal Diseases / therapy
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome