Analysis of foveal characteristics and their asymmetries in the normal population

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The advance of optical coherence tomography (OCT) enables a detailed examination of the human retina in-vivo for clinical routine and experimental eye research. Only few investigations to date captured human foveal morphology in a large subject group on the basis of a detailed analysis employing mathematical models. However, even for important foveal characteristics unified terminology and clear definitions were not implemented so far. This might be a reason, why to this day the human fovea is considered to be a mostly symmetric and round structure. Therefore, the most important finding of this work is the detailed analysis of the asymmetric structure of the human fovea. We employed five clinically highly relevant foveal characteristics, which are derived from a previously published fovea model. For each, an accurate mathematical description is given. The presented properties include (1) mean retinal thickness inside a defined radius, (2) foveal bowl area, (3) a new, exact definition of foveal radius, (4) maximum foveal slope, and (5) the maximum height of the foveal rim. Furthermore, minimum retinal thickness was derived and analyzed. 220 strictly controlled healthy Caucasian subjects of European decent with an even distribution of age and gender were imaged with an Heidelberg Spectralis OCT. Detailed analysis demonstrated the following general results: (1) significant gender difference regarding the central foveal subfield thickness (CFST) but no significant differences for the minimum central retinal thickness, (2) a strong correlation between right and left eye of the same subject, and, as essential finding, (3) strong structural differences of the fovea form in the different anatomical directions (nasal, temporal, inferior and superior). In the analysis of the foveal asymmetry, it will be demonstrated that the foveal radius is larger in nasal and temporal direction compared to inferior and superior position. Furthermore, it will be shown that the circular fovea rather has an elliptic form with the larger axis along the nasal to temporal direction. Interestingly, the foveal slope shows a divergent behavior as the temporal direction has the smallest slope angle and both, inferior and superior angles are clearly larger than the others. The findings in this work can be used for an exact quantification of changes in early stages of various retinal diseases and as a marker for initial diagnosis.

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