Neonatal intermittent hypoxia (IH) followed by re-oxygenation in normoxia or supplemental oxygen (IHR) increases the risk for severe retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). The exact timing for the onset of retinal damage which may guide strategic interventions during retinal development, is unknown. We tested the hypothesis that chronic exposure of the immature retina to neonatal IH induces early manifestations of retinal damage that can be utilized as key time points for strategic pharmacologic intervention. Newborn rats were exposed to IH within 2 hours of birth (P0) until P14, or allowed to recover in room air (RA) from P14 to P21 (IHR). Retinal integrity and angiogenesis biomarkers were progressively assessed before (P0), during IH, and post IH (recovery in RA), or IHR, and compared to normoxic age-matched controls. Retinal damage occurred as early as day 3 of neonatal IH, consistent with vascular abnormalities and disturbances in the astrocytic template. These abnormalities worsened during IHR. Pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions to identify, prevent, or minimize neonatal IH should be implemented shortly after birth in high risk preterm newborns. This strategy may lead to a reduction in the outcome of severe ROP requiring later invasive treatments.
Keywords: Angiogenesis; Astrocytes; Neonatal Intermittent Hypoxia; Oxygen-Induced Retinopathy.