Glaucoma is an optic neuropathy of unknown origin. The most important risk factor for the disease is an increased intraocular pressure (IOP). Reducing IOP is associated with reduced progression in glaucoma. Several recent large scale trials have indicated that low ocular perfusion pressure (OPP) is a risk factor for the incidence, prevalence and progression of the disease. This is a strong indicator that vascular factors are involved in the pathogenesis of the disease, a hypothesis that was formulated 150 years ago. The relation between OPP and blood flow to the posterior pole of the eye is, however, complex, because of a phenomenon called autoregulation. Autoregulatory processes attempt to keep blood flow constant despite changes in OPP. Although autoregulation has been observed in many experiments in the ocular vasculature the mechanisms underlying the vasodilator and vasoconstrictor responses in face of changes in OPP remain largely unknown. There is, however, recent evidence that the human choroid regulates its blood flow better during changes in blood pressure induced by isometric exercise than during changes in IOP induced by a suction cup. This may have consequences for our understanding of glaucoma, because it indicates that blood flow regulation is strongly dependent not only on OPP, but also on the level of IOP itself. Indeed there is data indicating that reduction of IOP by pharmacological intervention improves optic nerve head blood flow regulation independently of an ocular vasodilator effect.
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