Background: Although it has been suggested that alterations of nerve fiber layer vasculature may be involved in the etiology of eye diseases, including glaucoma, it has not been possible to examine this vasculature in-vivo. This report describes a novel imaging method, fluorescence adaptive optics (FAO) scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (SLO), that makes possible for the first time in-vivo imaging of this vasculature in the living macaque, comparing in-vivo and ex-vivo imaging of this vascular bed.
Methods: We injected sodium fluorescein intravenously in two macaque monkeys while imaging the retina with an FAO-SLO. An argon laser provided the 488 nm excitation source for fluorescence imaging. Reflectance images, obtained simultaneously with near infrared light, permitted precise surface registration of individual frames of the fluorescence imaging. In-vivo imaging was then compared to ex-vivo confocal microscopy of the same tissue.
Results: Superficial focus (innermost retina) at all depths within the NFL revealed a vasculature with extremely long capillaries, thin walls, little variation in caliber and parallel-linked structure oriented parallel to the NFL axons, typical of the radial peripapillary capillaries (RPCs). However, at a deeper focus beneath the NFL, (toward outer retina) the polygonal pattern typical of the ganglion cell layer (inner) and outer retinal vasculature was seen. These distinguishing patterns were also seen on histological examination of the same retinas. Furthermore, the thickness of the RPC beds and the caliber of individual RPCs determined by imaging closely matched that measured in histological sections.
Conclusion: This robust method demonstrates in-vivo, high-resolution, confocal imaging of the vasculature through the full thickness of the NFL in the living macaque, in precise agreement with histology. FAO provides a new tool to examine possible primary or secondary role of the nerve fiber layer vasculature in retinal vascular disorders and other eye diseases, such as glaucoma.