Blood-retinal barrier in hypoxic ischaemic conditions: basic concepts, clinical features and management

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2008 Nov;27(6):622-47. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2008.09.003. Epub 2008 Oct 4.


The blood-retinal barrier (BRB) plays an important role in the homeostatic regulation of the microenvironment in the retina. It consists of inner and outer components, the inner BRB (iBRB) being formed by the tight junctions between neighbouring retinal capillary endothelial cells and the outer barrier (oBRB) by tight junctions between retinal pigment epithelial cells. Astrocytes, Müller cells and pericytes contribute to the proper functioning of the iBRB. In many clinically important conditions including diabetic retinopathy, ischaemic central retinal vein occlusion, and some respiratory diseases, retinal hypoxia results in a breakdown of the iBRB. Disruption of the iBRB associated with increased vascular permeability, results in vasogenic oedema and tissue damage, with consequent adverse effects upon vision. Factors such as enhanced production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), NO, oxidative stress and inflammation underlie the increased permeability of the iBRB and inhibition of these factors is beneficial. Experimental studies in our laboratory have shown melatonin to be a protective agent for the iBRB in hypoxic conditions. Although oBRB breakdown can occur in conditions such as accelerated hypertension and the toxaemia of pregnancy, both of which are associated with choroidal ischaemia and in age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), and is a feature of exudative (serous) retinal detachment, our studies have shown that the oBRB remains intact in hypoxic/ischaemic conditions. Clinically, anti-VEGF therapy has been shown to improve vision in diabetic maculopathy and in neovascular ARMD. The visual benefit in both conditions appears to arise from the restoration of BRB integrity with a reduction of retinal oedema.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Blood-Retinal Barrier / physiology*
  • Capillary Permeability
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Ischemia / metabolism*
  • Retinal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Retinal Diseases / metabolism*
  • Retinal Vessels / physiology*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors
  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A