Quantitative confocal imaging of the retinal microvasculature in the human retina

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PURPOSE: We investigated quantitatively the distribution of blood vessels in different neural layers of the human retina.

METHODS: A total of 16 human donor eyes was perfusion-fixed and labeled for endothelial f-actin. Retinal eccentricity located 3 mm superior to the optic disk was studied using confocal scanning laser microscopy. Immunohistochemical methods applied to whole-mount and transverse sections were used to colocalize capillary networks with neuronal elements. Capillary morphometry, diameter, and density measurements were compared among networks.

RESULTS: Four different capillary networks were identified and quantified in the following regions: Nerve fiber layer (NFL), retinal ganglion cell (RGC) layer, border of the inner plexiform layer (IPL) and superficial boundary of the inner nuclear layer (INL), and boundary of the deep INL and outer plexiform layer. The innermost and outermost capillary networks demonstrated a laminar configuration, while IPL and deep INL networks displayed a complex three-dimensional configuration. Capillary diameter in RGC and IPL networks were significantly less than in other networks. Capillary density was greatest in the RGC network (26.74%), and was significantly greater than in the NFL (13.69%), IPL (11.28%), and deep INL (16.12%) networks.

CONCLUSIONS: The unique metabolic demands of neuronal sub-compartments may influence the morphometric features of regional capillary networks. Differences in capillary diameter and density between networks may have important correlations with neuronal function in the human retina. These findings may be important for understanding pathogenic mechanisms in retinal vascular disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5728-5736
Number of pages9
JournalInvestigative ophthalmology & visual science
Issue number9
Early online date26 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2012


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