Anatomy and development of the macula: specialisation and the vulnerability to macular degeneration

Clin Exp Optom. 2005 Sep;88(5):269-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1444-0938.2005.tb06711.x.


The central retina in primates is adapted for high acuity vision. The most significant adaptations to neural retina in this respect are: 1. The very high density of cone photoreceptors on the visual axis; 2. The dominance of Midget pathways arising from these cones and 3. The diminishment of retinal blood supply in the macula, and its absence on the visual axis. Restricted blood supply to the part of the retina that has the highest density of neural elements is paradoxical. Inhibition of vascular growth and proliferation is evident during foetal life and results in metabolic stress in ganglion cells and Muller cells, which is resolved during formation of the foveal depression. In this review we argue that at the macula stressed retinal neurons adapt during development to a limited blood supply from the choriocapillaris, which supplies little in excess of metabolic demand of the neural retina under normal conditions. We argue also that while adaptation of the choriocapillaris underlying the foveal region may initially augment the local supply of oxygen and nutrients by diffusion, in the long term these adaptations make the region more vulnerable to age-related changes, including the accumulation of insoluble material in Bruch's membrane and beneath the retinal pigment epithelium. These changes eventually impact on delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the RPE and outer neural retina because of reduced flow in the choriocapillaris and the increasing barriers to effective diffusion. Both the inflammatory response and the sequelae of oxidative stress are predictable outcomes in this scenario.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Macula Lutea / anatomy & histology*
  • Macula Lutea / growth & development*
  • Macular Degeneration / etiology
  • Macular Degeneration / metabolism
  • Macular Degeneration / pathology*
  • Microcirculation
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Retinal Vessels / anatomy & histology