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Saccadic oscillations facilitate ocular perfusion from the avian pecten


THE evolution of the eye is constrained by two conflicting requirements—good vascular perfusion of the retina, and an optical path through the retina that is unobstructed by blood vessels. Birds are interesting in that they have higher metabolic rates and thicker retinas than mammals, but have no retinal blood vessels. Nutrients and oxygen must thus reach the neurons of the inner retina either from the choroid through 300 μm of metabolically very active retina, or from the pecten, a pleated vascular structure protruding from the head of the optic nerve into the vitreous chamber, and more than a centimetre away from some retinal neurons. Despite the diffusional distance involved, several lines of evidence indicate that the pecten is the primary source of nutrients for the inner retina: the presence of an oxygen gradient from pecten to retina1, the large surface area produced by macroscopic folds2,3 and by microscopic infoldings of the luminal and external surfaces of the capillary endothelium4–6, extrusion of circulating fluorescein7, high content of carbonic anhydrase and alkaline phosphatase8,9, and retinal impairments after pecten ablation1. Another peculiarity of birds, their saccadic oscillations, occur with a large cyclotor-sional component during every saccadic eye movement11. In different species, saccades, which occur at intervals of 0.5–40 s, have up to 13 oscillations with frequencies of 15–30 Hz and ampliá-tudes of about 10° (ref. 12). Therefore, as much as 12% of some birds' total viewing time may be subject to the image instability caused by the oscillations13. Using fluorescein angiography, we show here that during every saccade, the pecten acts as an agitator which propels perfusate towards the central retina much more effectively than is observed during intersaccadic intervals.

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Pettigrew, J., Wallman, J. & Wildsoet, C. Saccadic oscillations facilitate ocular perfusion from the avian pecten. Nature 343, 362–363 (1990).

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