The Relationship between Retinal Arteriolar and Venular Calibers Is Genetically Mediated, and Each Is Associated with Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Samantha J Fahy, Cong Sun, Gu Zhu, Paul R Healey, Tim D Spector, Nicolas G Martin, Paul Mitchell, Tien Y Wong, David A Mackey, Christopher J Hammond, Toby Andrew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE. Retinal arteriolar and venular calibers are highly heritable and associated with cardiovascular disease. This study was designed to investigate the relative influence of genetic and environmental factors on the high phenotypic correlation (r = 0.59) between these two traits and to assess the shared and specific influence of established and novel cardiovascular disease risk factors on them.

METHODS. A total of 1463 Caucasian female twins (706 monozygotic and 757 dizygotic), between 24 and 79 years of age, underwent retinal photography from which retinal arteriolar (mean, 153.75 +/- 22.1 mu m, SD) and venular (mean, 232.1 +/- 36.6 mu m) calibers were measured with semiautomated software. A bivariate heritability model was used to assess the genetic and environmental influences underlying both specific trait variance and the covariance between the vessel traits. The investigation was an assessment of phenotypic associations between retinal arteriolar and venular calibers and cardiovascular disease risk factors.

RESULTS. Additive genetic factors accounted for approximately three fourths of the covariance between retinal arteriolar and venular calibers within the cohort. This finding was replicated in a sample of 1981 twins from the Australian Twins Eye Study. The partial correlation showed that known risk factors accounted for only 5% of the covariance between arteriolar and venular calibers. Novel associations were found between venular caliber and beta-cell function (P = 0.011) and insulin sensitivity (P = 0.002).

CONCLUSIONS. These results suggest that future gene-mapping studies may identify pleiotropic genetic variants influencing both retinal arteriolar and venular calibers. Genetic variants associated with retinal caliber and (risk factors for) cardiovascular disease should provide new etiologic insights into this complex disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)975 - 981
Number of pages7
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arterioles
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Diseases in Twins
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Genetic
  • Organ Size
  • Phenotype
  • Photography
  • Quantitative Trait Loci
  • Retinal Artery
  • Retinal Vein
  • Risk Factors
  • Twins, Dizygotic
  • Twins, Monozygotic
  • Venules
  • Young Adult


Dive into the research topics of 'The Relationship between Retinal Arteriolar and Venular Calibers Is Genetically Mediated, and Each Is Associated with Risk of Cardiovascular Disease'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this