The neurovascular retina in retinopathy of prematurity

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2009 Nov;28(6):452-82. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2009.06.003. Epub 2009 Jun 27.


The continuing worldwide epidemic of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a leading cause of childhood visual impairment, strongly motivates further research into mechanisms of the disease. Although the hallmark of ROP is abnormal retinal vasculature, a growing body of evidence supports a critical role for the neural retina in the ROP disease process. The age of onset of ROP coincides with the rapid developmental increase in rod photoreceptor outer segment length and rhodopsin content of the retina with escalation of energy demands. Using a combination of non-invasive electroretinographic (ERG), psychophysical, and image analysis procedures, the neural retina and its vasculature have been studied in prematurely born human subjects, both with and without ROP, and in rats that model the key vascular and neural parameters found in human ROP subjects. These data are compared to comprehensive numeric summaries of the neural and vascular features in normally developing human and rat retina. In rats, biochemical, anatomical, and molecular biological investigations are paired with the non-invasive assessments. ROP, even if mild, primarily and persistently alters the structure and function of photoreceptors. Post-receptor neurons and retinal vasculature, which are intimately related, are also affected by ROP; conspicuous neurovascular abnormalities disappear, but subtle structural anomalies and functional deficits may persist years after clinical ROP resolves. The data from human subjects and rat models identify photoreceptor and post-receptor targets for interventions that promise improved outcomes for children at risk for ROP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electroretinography / methods
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Psychophysics
  • Rats
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Retinal Neurons / physiology
  • Retinal Vessels / pathology*
  • Retinal Vessels / physiopathology
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity / pathology*
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity / physiopathology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology