Cellular and physiological mechanisms underlying blood flow regulation in the retina and choroid in health and disease

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2012 Sep;31(5):377-406. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2012.04.004. Epub 2012 May 3.


We review the cellular and physiological mechanisms responsible for the regulation of blood flow in the retina and choroid in health and disease. Due to the intrinsic light sensitivity of the retina and the direct visual accessibility of fundus blood vessels, the eye offers unique opportunities for the non-invasive investigation of mechanisms of blood flow regulation. The ability of the retinal vasculature to regulate its blood flow is contrasted with the far more restricted ability of the choroidal circulation to regulate its blood flow by virtue of the absence of glial cells, the markedly reduced pericyte ensheathment of the choroidal vasculature, and the lack of intermediate filaments in choroidal pericytes. We review the cellular and molecular components of the neurovascular unit in the retina and choroid, techniques for monitoring retinal and choroidal blood flow, responses of the retinal and choroidal circulation to light stimulation, the role of capillaries, astrocytes and pericytes in regulating blood flow, putative signaling mechanisms mediating neurovascular coupling in the retina, and changes that occur in the retinal and choroidal circulation during diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and Alzheimer's disease. We close by discussing issues that remain to be explored.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Choroid / blood supply*
  • Choroid / innervation
  • Choroid / radiation effects
  • Eye Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Medical Illustration
  • Oculomotor Muscles / metabolism
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Regional Blood Flow / radiation effects
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Retina / radiation effects
  • Retinal Vessels / physiology*
  • Retinal Vessels / physiopathology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Visual Fields / physiology


  • Potassium
  • Calcium