We review the cellular and physiological mechanisms responsible for the regulation of blood flow in the retina and choroid in health and disease. Due to the intrinsic light sensitivity of the retina and the direct visual accessibility of fundus blood vessels, the eye offers unique opportunities for the non-invasive investigation of mechanisms of blood flow regulation. The ability of the retinal vasculature to regulate its blood flow is contrasted with the far more restricted ability of the choroidal circulation to regulate its blood flow by virtue of the absence of glial cells, the markedly reduced pericyte ensheathment of the choroidal vasculature, and the lack of intermediate filaments in choroidal pericytes. We review the cellular and molecular components of the neurovascular unit in the retina and choroid, techniques for monitoring retinal and choroidal blood flow, responses of the retinal and choroidal circulation to light stimulation, the role of capillaries, astrocytes and pericytes in regulating blood flow, putative signaling mechanisms mediating neurovascular coupling in the retina, and changes that occur in the retinal and choroidal circulation during diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and Alzheimer's disease. We close by discussing issues that remain to be explored.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors thank Mr. Sam Adamson for assistance with digital imaging. Supported by Fondation Leducq of France , the National Institutes of Health of the United States ( EY004077 ), the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia ( #571100, 1005730 ), the Rebecca L. Cooper Medical Research Foundation , the Brian M Kirby Foundation – Gift of Sight Initiative, and the NSW Optometrist Registration Board – Best Practice Grant.
- Blood flow
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Functional hyperemia