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Prog Retin Eye Res. 2011 Jan;30(1):72-80. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2010.09.003. Epub 2010 Oct 15.

Metabolic physiology in age related macular degeneration.

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University of Iceland, National University Hospital, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.


Ischemia and hypoxia have been implicated in the pathophysiology of age related macular degeneration (AMD). This has mostly been based on studies on choroidal perfusion, which is not the only contributor to retinal hypoxia found in AMD eyes. Other features of AMD may also interfere with retinal oxygen metabolism including confluent drusen, serous or hemorrhagic retinal detachment, retinal edema and vitreoretinal adhesion. Each of these features contributes to retinal hypoxia: the drusen and retinal elevation by increasing the distance between the choriocapillaris and retina; vitreoretinal adhesion by reducing diffusion and convection of oxygen towards and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) away from hypoxic retinal areas. Hypoxia-inducible-factor is known to exist in subretinal neovascularization and hypoxia is the main stimulus for the production of VEGF. Each feature may not by itself create enough hypoxia and VEGF accumulation to stimulate wet AMD, but they may combine to do so. Choroidal ischemia in AMD has been demonstrated by many researchers, using different technologies. Choroidal ischemia obviously decreases oxygen delivery to the outer retina. Confluent drusen, thickening of Bruch's membrane and any detachment of retina or retinal pigment epithelium, increases the distance between the choriocapillaris and the retina and thereby reduces the oxygen flux from the choroid to the outer retina according to Fick's law of diffusion. Retinal elevation and choroidal ischemia may combine forces to reduce choroidal oxygen delivery to the outer retina, produce retinal hypoxia. Hypoxia leads to production of VEGF leading to neovascularization and tissue edema. A vicious cycle may develop, where VEGF production increases effusion, retinal detachment and edema, further increasing hypoxia and VEGF production. Adhesion of the viscous posterior vitreous cortex to the retina maintains a barrier to diffusion and convection currents in the vitreous cavity according to the laws of Fick's, Stokes-Einstein and Hagen-Poiseuille. If the vitreous is detached from the surface of the retina, the low viscosity fluid transports oxygen and nutrients towards an ischemic area of the retina, and cytokines away from the retina, at a faster rate than through attached vitreous gel. Vitreoretinal adhesion can exacerbate retinal hypoxia and accumulation of cytokines, such as VEGF. Vitreoretinal traction can also cause hypoxia by retinal elevation. Conceivably, the basic features of AMD, drusen, choroidal ischemia, and vitreoretinal adhesion are independently determined by genetics and environment and may combine in variable proportions. If the resulting hypoxia and consequent VEGF accumulation crosses a threshold, this will trigger effusion and neovascularization.

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