Modifications in macular perfusion and neuronal loss after acute traumatic brain injury

Jenny L. Hepschke, Elinor Laws, Noor H. Bin Saliman, Stefana Juncu, Ella Courtie, Antonio Belli, Richard J. Blanch

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Purpose: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) causes structural damage and functional impairment in the visual system, often with retinal ganglion cell (RGC) degeneration occurring without visual symptoms. RGC degeneration is associated with reduced retinal blood-flow, however, it is not known whether reductions in perfusion precede or are secondary to neurodegeneration. 

Methods: We conducted a prospective observational single-center case series. Patients were included if they were admitted to the hospital after acute TBI and underwent ophthalmic clinical examination, including optical coherence tomography (OCT) and OCT angiography (OCTA) acutely and at follow-up. Ganglion cell layer thickness (GCL) thickness, vascular density in the superficial vascular plexus (SVP), and intermediate capillary plexus (ICP) were quantified. 

Results: Twenty-one patients aged 20 to 65 years (mean = 38 years) including 16 men and 5 women were examined less than 14 days after moderate to severe TBI, and again after 2 to 6 months. Macular structure and perfusion were normal at baseline in all patients. Visual function was abnormal at baseline in three patients and subsequent neurodegeneration and loss of perfusion corresponded to baseline visual function abnormalities. Nine patients (43%) had reduced macular GCL thickness at follow up. Perfusion in the SVP strongly associated with local GCL thickness. The strongest association of the SVP metrics was the sum of vessel density (P < 0.0001). 

Conclusions: In cases of reduced visual function after TBI, macular perfusion remained normal until reductions in GCL thickness occurred, indicating that perfusion changes were secondary to local GCL loss.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
Number of pages9
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2023


  • traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • retina
  • optical coherence tomography (OCT)
  • optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA)
  • ganglion cell layer (GCL)

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