Purpose: Optical coherence tomography (OCT) has enabled "virtual biopsy" of the living human retina, revolutionizing both basic retina research and clinical practice over the past 25 years. For most of those years, in parallel, adaptive optics (AO) has been used to improve the transverse resolution of ophthalmoscopes to foster in vivo study of the retina at the microscopic level. Here, we review work done over the last 15 years to combine the microscopic transverse resolution of AO with the microscopic axial resolution of OCT, building AO-OCT systems with the highest three-dimensional resolution of any existing retinal imaging modality.
Methods: We surveyed the literature to identify the most influential antecedent work, important milestones in the development of AO-OCT technology, its applications that have yielded new knowledge, research areas into which it may productively expand, and nascent applications that have the potential to grow.
Results: Initial efforts focused on demonstrating three-dimensional resolution. Since then, many improvements have been made in resolution and speed, as well as other enhancements of acquisition and postprocessing techniques. Progress on these fronts has produced numerous discoveries about the anatomy, function, and optical properties of the retina.
Conclusions: Adaptive optics OCT continues to evolve technically and to contribute to our basic and clinical knowledge of the retina. Due to its capacity to reveal cellular and microscopic detail invisible to clinical OCT systems, it is an ideal companion to those instruments and has the demonstrable potential to produce images that can guide the interpretation of clinical findings.