Fractal analysis of the vascular tree in the human retina

Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2004;6:427-52. doi: 10.1146/annurev.bioeng.6.040803.140100.


The retinal circulation of the normal human retinal vasculature is statistically self-similar and fractal. Studies from several groups present strong evidence that the fractal dimension of the blood vessels in the normal human retina is approximately 1.7. This is the same fractal dimension that is found for a diffusion-limited growth process, and it may have implications for the embryological development of the retinal vascular system. The methods of determining the fractal dimension for branching trees are reviewed together with proposed models for the optimal formation (Murray Principle) of the branching vascular tree in the human retina and the branching pattern of the human bronchial tree. The limitations of fractal analysis of branching biological structures are evaluated. Understanding the design principles of branching vascular systems and the human bronchial tree may find applications in tissue and organ engineering, i.e., bioartificial organs for both liver and kidney.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Bronchi / pathology
  • Diffusion
  • Fractals*
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Retina / embryology
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Tissue Engineering