The rodent model of nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (rNAION) is similar in many of its pathophysiological responses to clinical NAION. Like human NAION, there is significant variability in the severity of the lesion produced, and little is known of the parameters associated with rNAION induction severity or if pre- or early post-induction biomarkers can be identified that enable prediction of lesion severity and ultimate loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Adult male Sprague-Dawley outbred rats were evaluated for various parameters including physiological characteristics (heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, hematocrit [Hct]), optic nerve head (ONH) appearance, pre- and post-induction mean diameter, and intravenous fluorescein and indocyanine green angiographic patterns of vascular leakage at 5 hours post-induction, performed using a spectral domain-optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) instrument. Early changes were correlated with ultimate RGC loss by Brn3a (+) immunohistology. RGC loss also was correlated with the relative level of laser exposure. The severity of ONH edema 2d, but not 5hr, post induction was most closely associated with the degree of RGC loss, revealing a threshold effect, and consistent with a compartment syndrome where a minimum level of capillary compression within a tight space is responsible for damage. RGC loss increased dramatically as the degree of laser exposure increased. Neither physiological parameters nor the degree of capillary leakage 5hr post induction were informative as to the ultimate degree of RGC loss. Similar to human NAION, the rNAION model exhibits marked variability in lesion severity. Unlike clinical NAION, pre-induction ONH diameter likely does not contribute to ultimate lesion severity; however, cross-sectional ONH edema can be used as a biomarker 2d post-induction to determine randomization of subjects prior to inclusion in specific neuroprotection or neuroregeneration studies.
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