Vascular aspects in the pathophysiology of glaucomatous optic neuropathy

Surv Ophthalmol. 1999 Jun:43 Suppl 1:S43-50. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6257(99)00050-8.


Glaucoma remains a major eye illness with unknown etiology. Although elevated intraocular pressure is clearly a major risk factor, vascular deficits may contribute to initiation and progression of glaucoma. When intraocular pressure is acutely elevated in healthy individuals, the resistance index (derived from the peak systolic and end-diastolic velocities and an indirect index of vascular resistance distal to the site of measurement) in the central retinal and posterior ciliary arteries increases progressively. This result implies that mechanical and vascular factors may be coupled in such a way that perfusion of the retina and optic nerve head may be influenced by changes in the intraocular pressure. Further, at night, when ophthalmic artery flow velocities fall as arterial blood pressure falls in glaucoma patients, the risk of disease progression may be increased. The constancy of these same flow velocities in age-matched healthy individuals points to a possible vascular autoregulatory defect in glaucoma. In addition, in normal-tension glaucoma, vasodilation (CO2 inhalation) normalizes retrobulbar arterial flow velocities, hinting that some vascular deficits in glaucoma may be reversible. Finally, Ca2+ channel blockade improves contrast sensitivity in patients with normal-tension glaucoma, who also show increased retrobulbar vessel flow velocities, a result suggesting that visual function loss may be linked to ocular ischemia. Emerging evidence points to a role of ischemia in the pathogenesis of glaucoma, suggesting that treatments designed to improve ocular blood flow may benefit glaucoma patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteries / diagnostic imaging
  • Arteries / physiopathology
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Disease
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Disease Progression
  • Glaucoma, Open-Angle / drug therapy
  • Glaucoma, Open-Angle / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Intraocular Pressure
  • Optic Disk / blood supply*
  • Optic Neuropathy, Ischemic / etiology
  • Optic Neuropathy, Ischemic / physiopathology*
  • Optic Neuropathy, Ischemic / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color


  • Calcium Channel Blockers