The effects of graded intraocular pressure challenge on the optic nerve head

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Intraocular pressure (IOP) is an important risk factor for glaucoma, and the response of the ONH and surrounding tissues to elevated IOP are often investigated to better understand pathophysiology. In vivo structure including that of the optic nerve head (ONH) and surrounding tissue of the eye are often assessed using optical coherence tomography (OCT). With advances in OCT technology, both large vessels and capillaries can be imaged non-invasively (OCT Angiography). Because a significant portion of retinal thickness is comprised of vasculature, the purpose of the current study was to investigate OCT structural and vascular changes in healthy non-human primate eyes with systematic graded increases and decreases in IOP. Six healthy animals with no previous experimental intervention were used. The pressure in the anterior chamber was adjusted from 10 mmHg to 60 mmHg and back to 10 mmHg in 10 mmHg steps every 10 min. Using optical coherence tomography (OCT), retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) thickness, minimum rim width (MRW), Bruch's membrane opening (BMO) size and relative height, anterior lamina cribrosa surface (ALCS) depth, choroidal thickness, and angiography (OCTA) were quantified. With IOP challenge there were significant changes in all morphological measures quantified (p < 0.01) other than BMO size (p = 0.30) and RNFL thickness (p = 0.29). Specifically, the position of the BMO was sensitive to both an increase and decease in IOP. The inner retinal capillary density gradually decreased with increasing IOP, reaching statistical significance when pressure exceeded 50 mmHg, but returned when IOP was reduced. The average choroidal thickness around the ONH decreased for elliptical annuli 500–1000 μm and 1000–1500 μm, from the BMO, with increasing IOP (p < 0.01). For the 1000–1500 μm annulus, choroid thickness did not return to baseline with IOP reduction. Similarly, the MRW decreased with increase in IOP, but with pressure reduction did not return, and at the final 10 mmHg time point was thinner than at baseline (p < 0.01). The results from this experiment illustrate differences in ONH neural rim tissue, RNFL and vessel density changes with acute IOP challenge. Overall, vessel collapse could not completely account for changes in RNFL or ONH MRW thickness. The study supports the hypothesis neural rim compression may be an important part of IOP-induced damage.

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