Lateral thinking – Interocular symmetry and asymmetry in neurovascular patterning, in health and disease

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Abstract

No biological system or structure is likely to be perfectly symmetrical, or have identical right and left forms. This review explores the evidence for eye and visual pathway asymmetry, in health and in disease, and attempts to provide guidance for those studying the structure and function of the visual system, where recognition of symmetry or asymmetry may be essential.

The principal question with regards to asymmetry is not ‘are the eyes the same?’, for some degree of asymmetry is pervasive, but ‘when are they importantly different?’. Knowing if right and left eyes are ‘importantly different’ could have significant consequences for deciding whether right or left eyes are included in an analysis or for examining the association between a phenotype and ocular parameter. The presence of significant asymmetry would also have important implications for the design of normative databases of retinal and optic nerve metrics.

In this review, we highlight not only the universal presence of asymmetry, but provide evidence that some elements of the visual system are inherently more asymmetric than others, pointing to the need for improved normative data to explain sources of asymmetry and their impact on determining associations with genetic, environmental or health-related factors and ultimately in clinical practice.

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