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J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2013 Nov;33(11):1685-95. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2013.145. Epub 2013 Aug 21.

Functional hyperemia and mechanisms of neurovascular coupling in the retinal vasculature.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.


The retinal vasculature supplies cells of the inner and middle layers of the retina with oxygen and nutrients. Photic stimulation dilates retinal arterioles producing blood flow increases, a response termed functional hyperemia. Despite recent advances, the neurovascular coupling mechanisms mediating the functional hyperemia response in the retina remain unclear. In this review, the retinal functional hyperemia response is described, and the cellular mechanisms that may mediate the response are assessed. These neurovascular coupling mechanisms include neuronal stimulation of glial cells, leading to the release of vasoactive arachidonic acid metabolites onto blood vessels, release of potassium from glial cells onto vessels, and production and release of nitric oxide (NO), lactate, and adenosine from neurons and glia. The modulation of neurovascular coupling by oxygen and NO are described, and changes in functional hyperemia that occur with aging and in diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and other pathologies, are reviewed. Finally, outstanding questions concerning retinal blood flow in health and disease are discussed.

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