Evidence is accumulating that one of the strongest predictors of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), in addition to low gestational age, is poor weight gain during the first weeks of life. In infants born preterm, the retina is not fully vascularised. The more premature the child, the larger is the avascular area. In response to hypoxia, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is secreted. For appropriate VEGF-induced vessel growth, sufficient levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) in serum are necessary. IGF-I is a peptide, related to nutrition supply, which is essential for both pre- and post-natal general growth as well as for growth of the retinal vasculature. In prematurely born infants, serum levels are closely related to gestational age and are lower in more prematurely born infants. At preterm birth the placental supply of nutrients is lost, growth factors are suddenly reduced and general as well as vascular growth slows down or ceases. In addition, the relative hyperoxia of the extra-uterine milieu, together with supplemental oxygen, causes a regression of already developed retinal vessels. Postnatal growth retardation is a major problem in very preterm infants. Both poor early weight gain and low serum levels of IGF-I during the first weeks/months of life have been found to be correlated with severity of ROP.
Conclusion: This review will focus on the mechanisms leading to ROP by exploring factors responsible for poor early weight gain and abnormal vascularisation of the eye of the preterm infant.