Spontaneous pulsation of the retinal veins

Microvasc Res. 1998 Nov;56(3):154-65. doi: 10.1006/mvre.1998.2098.


The classical theory of spontaneous pulsation of the retinal veins is that during systole intraocular pressure exceeds venous pressure, causing the veins to collapse. We show that this theory is internally inconsistent and not in accord with experimental data. It is inconsistent in assuming both (a) that oscillations of intraocular pressure (IOP) occur because the veins cannot immediately discharge the systolic arterial inflow and (b) that retinal venous pressure (RVP) can fluctuate independently of IOP during the cardiac cycle. It is not in accord with experimental data, which shows that RVP always exceeds IOP and that fluctuations in the latter are instantly transmitted to the former. We present an alternative theory that does not have these problems. We assume the following. (1) Inflow to the retinal venous tree from the capillaries is constant, the pulsatile arterial flow having been completely damped by the arterioles and capillaries. (2) Outflow from the central retinal vein (CRV) varies during the cardiac cycle because oscillations of IOP, transmitted to the intraocular CRV, are of greater amplitude than oscillations in cerebrospinal fluid pressure, transmitted to the extraocular CRV. By showing that the radial blood flow distending the veins obeys a diffusion equation and by employing an "equivalent cylinder" analysis of the branched venous tree to simplify the boundary conditions, we demonstrate that, with the above assumptions and the additional assumption of low amplitude of radial flow, the CRV will pulsate, and the pulsations will remain confined to a small segment near the exit point. The proposed theory can explain disappearance of pulsation with intracranial hypertension, intensification of pulsation in glaucoma, and variability in the linear extent and amplitude of pulsation among normal individuals. The theory may also be applied to other venous pulsations, such as the respiratory pulsation of the terminal portions of large veins entering the thorax or the cardiac cycle pulsation of the superior vena cava.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology*
  • Retinal Vein / physiology*
  • Vasoconstriction / physiology*