Decreased vascular patterning in the retinas of astronaut crew members as new measure of ocular damage in spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome

Ruchi J. Vyas, Millennia Young, Matthew C. Murray, Marina Predovic, Shiyin Lim, Nicole M. Jacobs, Sara S. Mason, Susana B. Zanello, Giovanni Taibbi, Gianmarco Vizzeri, Patricia Parsons-Wingerter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE. Ocular structural and functional changes, collectively termed spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS), have been described in astronauts undergoing long-duration missions in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. We tested the hypothesis that retinal vascular remodeling, particularly by smaller vessels, mediates the chronic headward fluid shifts associated with SANS. METHODS. As a retrospective study, arterial and venous patterns extracted from 30° infrared Heidelberg Spectralis retinal images of eight crew members acquired before and after six-month missions were analyzed with NASA’s recently released VESsel GENeration Analysis (VESGEN) software. Output parameters included the fractal dimension and overall vessel length density that was further classified into large and small vascular branching generations. Vascular results were compared with SANS-associated clinical ocular measures. RESULTS. Significant postflight decreases in Df, Lv, and in smaller but not larger vessels were quantified in 11 of 16 retinas for arteries and veins (P value for Df, Lv, and smaller vessels in all 16 retinas were ≤0.033). The greatest vascular decreases occurred in the only retina displaying clinical evidence of SANS by choroidal folds and optic disc edema. In the remaining 15 retinas, decreases in vascular density from Df and Lv ranged from minimal to high by a custom Subclinical Vascular Pathology Index. CONCLUSIONS. Together with VESGEN, the Subclinical Vascular Pathology Index may represent a new, useful SANS biomarker for advancing the understanding of SANS etiology and developing successful countermeasures for long duration space exploration in microgravity, although further research is required to better characterize retinal microvascular adaptations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number34
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number14
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Astronaut
  • Fractal
  • Retina
  • SANS
  • VIIP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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