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Keywords:

  • anatomical and physiological homology;
  • cerebral microvasculature;
  • cerebrovascular disease;
  • digital image analysis;
  • retinal microvasculature

Abstract

The retinal and cerebral microvasculatures share many morphological and physiological properties. Assessment of the cerebral microvasculature requires highly specialized and expensive techniques. The potential for using non-invasive clinical assessment of the retinal microvasculature as a marker of the state of the cerebrovasculature offers clear advantages, owing to the ease with which the retinal vasculature can be directly visualized in vivo and photographed due to its essential two-dimensional nature. The use of retinal digital image analysis is becoming increasingly common, and offers new techniques to analyse different aspects of retinal vascular topography, including retinal vascular widths, geometrical attributes at vessel bifurcations and vessel tracking. Being predominantly automated and objective, these techniques offer an exciting opportunity to study the potential to identify retinal microvascular abnormalities as markers of cerebrovascular pathology. In this review, we describe the anatomical and physiological homology between the retinal and cerebral microvasculatures. We review the evidence that retinal microvascular changes occur in cerebrovascular disease and review current retinal image analysis tools that may allow us to use different aspects of the retinal microvasculature as potential markers for the state of the cerebral microvasculature.