The pathogenesis of primary chronic open-angle glaucoma (POAG) remains uncertain. It has been proposed that some of these patients may present with a deficiency in retinal hemodynamic autoregulation. It is also thought that visual field loss in POAG could be related to poor retinal perfusion. The present study was undertaken to evaluate the capacity of retinal autoregulation to maintain constant retinal circulation despite an acute rise in intraocular pressure (IOP). A total of 22 healthy subjects were recruited to this study. Retinal hemodynamics were assessed by digital video fluorescein angiograms using a scanning laser ophthalmoscope at normal (13.8 +/- 1.5 mmHg) and increased IOP (33.8 +/- 3.4 mmHg). Suction cups were used for raising the IOPs. The angiograms were performed at baseline and after 1 min of increased IOP. To quantify retinal hemodynamics the arm-retina time (ART) and arteriovenous passage time (AVP) were evaluated. The ART increased significantly from 9.4 +/- 1.8 to 11.8 +/- 2.2 s (P < 0.05) during elevated IOP, and the AVP was significantly prolonged from 1.6 +/- 0.4 to 3.0 +/- 0.8 s (P < 0.01) with IOP elevation as well. The increase in ART and AVP indicates an insufficiency of retinal autoregulation after an acute rise in IOP, even in healthy subjects. It appears that IOP values of > or = 30 mmHg may be detrimental to retinal perfusion in normals as well as in patients with POAG, who may have compromised retinal perfusion to begin with.