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Cellular-Level Analysis of Retinal Blood Vessel Walls Based on Phase Gradient Images




Diseases such as diabetes affect the retinal vasculature and the health of the neural retina, leading to vision problems. We describe here an imaging method and analysis procedure that enables characterization of the retinal vessel walls with cellular-level resolution, potentially providing markers for eye diseases. Adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy is used with a modified detection scheme to include four simultaneous offset aperture channels. The magnitude of the phase gradient derived from these offset images is used to visualize the structural characteristics of the vessels. The average standard deviation image provides motion contrast and enables segmentation of the vessel lumen. Segmentation of blood vessel walls provides quantitative measures of geometrical characteristics of the vessel walls, including vessel and lumen diameters, wall thickness, and wall-to-lumen ratio. Retinal diseases may affect the structural integrity of the vessel walls, their elasticity, their permeability, and their geometrical characteristics. The ability to measure these changes is valuable for understanding the vascular effects of retinal diseases, monitoring disease progression, and drug testing. In addition, loss of structural integrity of the blood vessel wall may result in microaneurysms, a hallmark lesion of diabetic retinopathy, which may rupture or leak and further create vision impairment. Early identification of such structural abnormalities may open new treatment avenues for disease management and vision preservation. Functional testing of retinal circuitry through high-resolution measurement of vasodilation as a response to controlled light stimulation of the retina (neurovascular coupling) is another application of our method and can provide an unbiased evaluation of one’s vision and enable early detection of retinal diseases and monitoring treatment results.

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