Retinal vasculature reactivity during flicker light provocation, cardiac stress and stroke risk in Africans: the SABPA study
Von Känel, Roland
Malan, Nicolaas T.
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Structural and functional similarities exist between the retinal, cerebral and, as previously suggested, the coronary microvasculature. Retinal microvascular structure and functionality (in response to flicker-light-induced-provocation (FLIP)) may relate to coronary artery disease risk and possible stroke risk. We investigated associations between retinal vessel structure, functionality and cardiac stress markers (cardiac troponin T [cTnT], amino-terminal B-type natriuretic peptide [NT-proBNP]) to translate these retina–heart relationships to stroke risk. We included 317 African and Caucasian teachers’ (aged 23–68 years), who participated in the Sympathetic Activity and Ambulatory Blood Pressure in Africans (SABPA) study. Fasting plasma and serum samples for cTnT and NT-proBNP were collected. Retinal vascular calibres were quantified from fundus images and dynamic retinal vessel calibre responses during FLIP. The University of California stroke risk score was applied to assess sub-clinical 10-year stroke risk. cTnT levels were similar in Africans and Caucasians, whereas NT-proBNP levels were lower in Africans. In Africans, a reduced arteriolar calibre and attenuated arteriolar dilation during FLIP was associated with higher cTnT (p < 0.01). Their larger retinal–venular calibre (p < 0.02) and attenuated arteriolar dilation during FLIP (p < 0.05) were associated with lower NT-proBNP. Again, exclusively in Africans, increased cardiac stress, wider venular calibres and retinal arteriovenous nicking predicted an increased 10-year stroke risk with odds ratios of 1.57 (95% CI, 1.34; 1.68, p = 0.031), 1.51 (95% CI, 1.26; 1.59, p = 0.002), 1.10 (95% CI, 0.94; 2.85, p = 0.002) and 1.06 (95% CI 0.83; 1.56, p = 0.052), respectively. None of these associations were evident in the Caucasian group. Investigating the retinal vasculature may serve as a tool to approximate sub-clinical coronary and cerebral microvasculature damage or dysfunction. These cardiac stress–retinal associations additionally predicted a greater stroke risk in the SABPA African cohort. Observable changes in the retinal vasculature may serve as markers for the identification and prediction of cardio-systemic and cerebral vascular morbidities and risks, thereby establishing a brain-heart link
- Faculty of Health Sciences