Morphologic and functional changes in retinal vessels associated with branch retinal vein occlusion

Ophthalmology. 2013 Jan;120(1):91-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2012.06.054. Epub 2012 Sep 12.


Objective: To study the morphologic and functional changes in retinal veins of eyes affected with branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO) by thin sectioning with optical coherence tomography (OCT).

Design: Prospective, observational, cross-sectional study.

Participants: Twenty-five consecutive patients (25 eyes) with acute BRVO.

Methods: Major retinal veins, arteries, and arteriovenous (A/V) crossing were examined by sequential thin sectioning by Spectralis HRA+OCT (Heidelberg Engineering, Heidelberg, Germany). The retinal blood flow was mimicked in vitro and scanned with Spectralis HRA+OCT.

Main outcome measures: Morphologic characteristics of normal and BRVO-affected retinal vessels seen in OCT sections.

Results: Cross-sectional OCT images revealed physiologic retinal vessels as oval configurations with 4 distinctive hyperreflectivities in a line. The vessel walls showed the innermost and outermost hyperreflectivity, and the blood flow showed internal paired hyperreflectivities with an hourglass shape. No eye with disturbed blood flow due to BRVO showed this internal hyperreflectivity pattern. In vitro, OCT sections of the blood within the glass tube without flow showed homogeneous reflectivities. Increased blood flow velocity resulted in the development of heterogeneous internal reflectivity and hourglass-shaped hyperreflectivities. In all eyes with acute BRVO, sequential sectioning with OCT visualized 3-dimensional vascular architecture and the intravascular conditions at the A/V crossing. At the affected A/V crossing, arterial overcrossing was seen in 17 eyes and venous overcrossing was seen in 8 eyes. In eyes with arterial overcrossing, the retinal vein seemed to run deep under the artery at the A/V crossing, and the venous lumen often appeared to be preserved even at the A/V crossing. In all eyes with venous overcrossing, the retinal vein appeared to be compressed and choked between the internal limiting membrane and the arterial wall at the A/V crossing. Optical coherence tomography sectioning showed intravenous thrombi in 21 eyes, and the thrombi were detected downstream of the A/V crossing in all the cases. The detection of thrombus was significantly associated with ischemic pattern in BRVO (P=0.036).

Conclusions: In eyes with BRVO, sequential thin sections with OCT visualized 3-dimensional retinal vasculature. The present OCT findings suggest that BRVO may occur by 2 different mechanisms, depending on the relative anatomic positions of the crossing vessels.

Financial disclosure(s): The author(s) have no proprietary or commercial interest in any materials discussed in this article.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Fluorescein Angiography
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retinal Artery / pathology*
  • Retinal Vein / pathology*
  • Retinal Vein Occlusion / etiology
  • Retinal Vein Occlusion / physiopathology*
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence*
  • Venous Thrombosis / diagnosis