In vivo oximetry of human bulbar conjunctival and episcleral microvasculature using snapshot multispectral imaging

L. E. MacKenzie, T. R. Choudhary, A. I. McNaught, A. R. Harvey

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27 Scopus citations


Multispectral imaging (MSI) is a well-established technique for non-invasive oximetry of retinal blood vessels, which has contributed to the understanding of a variety of retinal conditions, including glaucoma, diabetes, vessel occlusion, and retinal auto-regulation. We report the first study to use snapshot multi-spectral imaging (SMSI) for oximetry of the bulbar conjunctival and episcleral microvasculature in the anterior segment of the eye. We report the oxygen dynamics of the bulbar conjunctival and episcleral microvasculature at normoxia and at acute mild hypoxia conditions. A retinal-fundus camera fitted with a custom Image-Replicating Imaging Spectrometer was used to image the bulbar conjunctival and episcleral microvasculature in ten healthy human subjects at normoxia (21% Fraction of Inspired Oxygen [FiO2]) and acute mild hypoxia (15% FiO2) conditions. Eyelid closure was used to control oxygen diffusion between ambient air and the sclera surface. Four subjects were imaged for 30 seconds immediately following eyelid opening. Vessel diameter and Optical Density Ratio (ODR: a direct proxy for oxygen saturation) of vessels was computed automatically. Oximetry capability was validated using a simple phantom that mimicked the scleral vasculature. Acute mild hypoxia resulted in a decrease in blood oxygen saturation (SO2) (i.e. an increase in ODR) when compared with normoxia in both bulbar conjunctival (p < 0.001) and episcleral vessels (p = 0.03). Average episcleral diameter increased from 78.9 ± 8.7 μm (mean ± standard deviation) at normoxia to 97.6 ± 14.3 μm at hypoxia (p = 0.02). Diameters of bulbar conjunctival vessels showed no significant change from 80.1 ± 7.6 μm at normoxia to 80.6 ± 7.0 μm at hypoxia (p = 0.89). When exposed to ambient air, hypoxic bulbar conjunctival vessels rapidly reoxygenated due to oxygen diffusion from ambient air. Reoxygenation occured in an exponential manner, and SO2 reached normoxia baseline levels. The average ½ time to full reoxygenation was 3.4 ± 1.4 s. As a consequence of oxygen diffusion, bulbar conjunctival vessels will be highly oxygenated (i.e. close to 100% SO2) when exposed to ambient air. Episcleral vessels were not observed to undergo any significant oxygen diffusion, instead behaving similarly to pulse oximetry measurements. This is the first study to the image oxygen dynamics of bulbar conjunctival and episcleral microvasculature, and consequently, the first study to directly observe the rapid reoxygenation of hypoxic bulbar conjunctival vessels when exposed to ambient air. Oximetry of bulbar conjunctival vessels could potentially provide insight into conditions where oxygen dynamics of the microvasculature are not fully understood, such as diabetes, sickle-cell diseases, and dry-eye syndrome. Oximetry in the bulbar conjunctival and episcleral microvasculature could be complimentary or alternative to retinal oximetry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-58
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Eye Research
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Bulbar conjunctiva
  • Episclera
  • Hypoxia
  • Microvasculature
  • Multispectral imaging
  • Oximetry
  • Oxygen diffusion
  • Oxygen saturation


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