Determinants of retinal microvascular features and their relationships in two European populations

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Abstract

Objectives:

To examine factors influencing retinal vasculature in two environmentally contrasted, cross-sectional studies of adult participants of European descent and to estimate the extent and specificity of genetic contributions to each retinal vasculature feature.

Methods:

Retinal images from 1088 participants in the Orkney Complex Disease Study and 387 in the CROATIA-Korčula study, taken using the same nonmydriatic camera system and graded by the same person, were evaluated. Using general linear models, we estimated the influence of an extensive range of systemic risk factors, calculated retinal traits heritabilities and genetic correlations.

Main results:

Systemic covariates explained little (<4%) of the variation in vessel tortuosity, substantially more (>10%, up to 31.7%) of the variation in vessel width and monofractal dimension. Suggestive not well trodden associations of biological interest included that of urate, tissue plasminogen activator and cardiac PR interval with arteriolar narrowing, that of carotid intima–media thickness with less-tortuous arterioles and of cardiac QT interval with more tortuous venules. The genetic underpinning of tortuosity is largely distinct from that of the other retinal vascular features, whereas that of fractal dimension and vessel width greatly overlaps. The previously recognized influence of ocular axial length on vessel widths was high and can be expected to lead to artefactual genetic associations [genetic correlation with central retinal arteriolar equivalent: −0.53 (standard error 0.11)]. The significant genetic correlation between SBP and central retinal arteriolar equivalent, −0.53 (standard error 0.22) (after adjusting for age, sex and axial length of the eye), augurs more favourably for the discovery of genetic variants relevant to vascular physiology.

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