Nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION) and its experimental models

Steven L. Bernstein, Mary A. Johnson, Neil R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (AION) can be divided into nonarteritic (NAION) and arteritic (AAION) forms. NAION makes up ~85% of all cases of AION, and until recently was poorly understood. There is no treatment for NAION, and its initiating causes are poorly understood, in part because NAION is not lethal, making it difficult to obtain fresh, newly affected tissue for study. In-vivo electrophysiology and post-mortem studies reveal specific responses that are associated with NAION. New models of NAION have been developed which enable insights into the pathophysiological events surrounding this disease. These models include both rodent and primate species, and the power of a 'vertically integrated' multi-species approach can help in understanding the common cellular mechanisms and physiological responses to clinical NAION, and to identify potential approaches to treatment. The models utilize laser light to activate intravascular photoactive dye to induce capillary vascular thrombosis, while sparing the larger vessels. The observable optic nerve changes associated with rodent models of AION (rAION) and primate NAION (pNAION) are indistinguishable from that seen in clinical disease, including sectoral axonal involvement, and in-vivo electrophysiological data from these models are consistent with clinical data. Early post-infarct events reveal an unexpected inflammatory response, and changes in intraretinal gene expression for both stress response, while sparing outer retinal function, which occurs in AAION models. Histologically, the NAION models reveal an isolated loss of retinal ganglion cells by apoptosis. There are changes detectable by immunohistochemistry suggesting that other retinal cells mount a brisk response to retinal ganglion cell distress without themselves dying. The optic nerve ultimately shows axonal loss and scarring. Inflammation is a prominent early histological feature. This suggests that clinically, specific modulation of inflammation may be a useful approach to NAION treatment early in the course of the disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-187
Number of pages21
JournalProgress in Retinal and Eye Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy
  • Axonal ischemia
  • Inflammation
  • Ischemic optic neuropathy
  • Nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy
  • Optic nerve
  • Optic nerve electrophysiology
  • Optic nerve gene expression
  • Retinal ganglion cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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