Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAON) is the second most common optic neuropathy in adults. Despite extensive study, the etiology of NAION is not definitively known. The best evidence suggests that NAION is caused by an infarction in the region of the optic nerve head (ONH), which is perfused by paraoptic short posterior ciliary arteries (sPCAs) and their branches. To examine the gaps in knowledge that defies our understanding of NAION, a historical review was performed both of anatomical investigations of the ONH and its relevant blood vessels and the evolution of clinical understanding of NAION. Notably, almost all of the in vitro vascular research was performed prior our current understanding of NAION, which has largely precluded a hypothesis-based laboratory approach to study the etiological conundrum of NAION. More recent investigative techniques, like fluorescein angiography, have provided valuable insight into vascular physiology, but such light-based techniques have not been able to image blood vessels located within or behind the dense connective tissue of the sclera and laminar cribrosa, sites that are likely culpable in NAION. The lingering gaps in knowledge clarify investigative paths that might be taken to uncover the pathogenesis of NAION and possibly glaucoma, the most common optic neuropathy for which evidence of a vascular pathology also exists.
Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston, Massachusetts.
Address correspondence to Joseph F. Rizzo, MD, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear, 234, Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114; E-mail: Joseph_rizzo@meei.harvard.edu
The author reports no conflicts of interest.