Microvascular network alterations in the retina of patients with Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimers Dement. 2014 Mar;10(2):135-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2013.06.009. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


Background: Although cerebral small-vessel disease has been implicated in the development of Alzheimer's disease (AD), the cerebral microcirculation is difficult to visualize directly in vivo. Because the retina provides a noninvasive window to assess the microcirculation, we determined whether quantitatively measured retinal microvascular parameters are associated with AD.

Methods: We conducted a case-control study (case:control matching ≈ 1:2). Retinal photographs were analyzed using a computer program, and a spectrum of quantitative retinal microvascular parameters (caliber, fractal dimension, tortuosity, and bifurcation) were measured. Logistic regression models were used to compute the odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval for AD adjusting for age, gender, ethnicity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and history of myocardial infarction.

Results: We included 136 demented patients with AD and 290 age-gender-race-matched controls. Persons with narrower venular caliber (OR per standard deviation [SD] decrease, 2.01 [1.27-3.19]), decreased arteriolar and venular fractal dimension (OR per SD decrease 1.35 [1.08-1.68], 1.47 [1.17-1.84], respectively) and increased arteriolar and venular tortuosity (OR per SD increase, 1.84 [1.40-2.31], 1.94 [1.48-2.53], respectively) were more likely to have AD. These associations still persisted when only AD cases without a history of cerebrovascular disease were included.

Conclusions: Patients with AD have altered microvascular network in the retina (narrower retinal venules and a sparser and more tortuous retinal vessels) compared with matched nondemented controls. These changes in retinal microvasculature may reflect similar pathophysiological processes in cerebral microvasculature in the brains of patients with AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Microcirculation; Retina; Retinal vasculature; Small-vessel disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microvessels / pathology*
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Retinal Vessels / pathology*
  • Retinoscopy
  • Retrospective Studies