What’s Up With OCTA?

By understanding the mechanisms of a new imaging tool, retina specialists may further appreciate its potential.

By Talisa E. de Carlo, BA; Gregory D. Lee, MD; David R. Lally, MD; and Jay S. Duker, MD

At a Glance

• OCTA calculates differences in OCT b-scans to indicate erythrocyte movement.
• Software for OCTA is undergoing clinical testing on SD-OCT devices.
• OCTA could someday be used for monitoring CNV, DR, vascular occlusive disease, and macular telangiectasia.

Optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) is an emerging imaging technique that employs motion contrast extracted from high-speed OCT images to generate high-resolution en face angiographic images noninvasively, rapidly, and without a dye injection. Initial clinical experience with OCTA has been promising, suggesting that OCTA can provide fine microvascular detail at least equivalent to that of fluorescein angiography (FA). There is also potential for using it to visualize abnormal blood flow in patients with ophthalmic diseases such as neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy (DR), and retinal vascular disease.

OCTA works by creating a decorrelation signal. The device compares the differences in the backscattered OCT signal intensity between sequential OCT b-scans obtained at a given cross-section (decorrelation signal) and uses this information to create a depth-resolved, en face map of the retinal and choroidal blood flow. Once axial bulk motion due to patient movement between sequential OCT b-scans is factored out, differences between repeated OCT b-scans are assumed to represent erythrocyte movement and, therefore, blood flow.1-5 The OCTA technology coregisters the en face angiographic maps (OCT angiograms) with the corresponding cross-sectional OCT b-scans. Therefore, by scrolling through the OCT angiogram in a similar way as one might with a standard OCT cube scan, blood flow and structural information can be evaluated in tandem. The axial resolutions of the corresponding OCT b-scans are similar to the resolution of individual b-scans within a standard volumetric cube scan.

Figure 1. OCTA centered at the fovea and the optic nerve in an eye with no known disease. This image shows 2.0 x 2.0 mm (A), 3.0 x 3.0 mm (B), 6.0 x 6.0 mm (C), and 8.0 x 8.0 mm (D) images at the fovea, and 3.0 x 3.0 mm (E) and 6.0 x 6.0 mm (F) images at the optic nerve.

How it works

In order to obtain a densely sampled volume, OCTA requires higher imaging speeds than most currently available OCT machines provide. Slow scanning speeds result in an unacceptable tradeoff between limited field of view, increased image acquisition time, and decreased image resolution. Currently, prototype software (AngioVue, OptoVue) is under limited clinical testing across the United States on the commercially available RTVue XR Avanti spectral-domain OCT (SD-OCT) device (OptoVue). The device scans at 70 000 a-scans per second and obtains OCTA images of 304 x 304 a-scans in approximately 3.0 seconds, comparing two OCT b-scans at each given cross-section.6 The same scanning density can be used to create a variety of OCTA image sizes: 2.0 x 2.0 mm, 3.0 x 3.0 mm, 6.0 x 6.0 mm, or 8.0 x 8.0 mm (Figure 1). This results in a tradeoff between image resolution and field of view, with 2.0 x 2.0 mm OCTA images having the highest resolution and the best microvascular detail, but 8.0 x 8.0 mm OCTA images having the largest field of view. The AngioVue software can be used to manually segment OCT angiograms into en face projections of the superficial, intermediate, and deep inner retinal vascular plexuses, outer retina, and choriocapillaris. The superficial inner retina segmentation (Figure 2A) shows vasculature in the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) and ganglion cell layer (GCL). The vascular plexuses at the border of the inner plexiform layer (IPL) and inner nuclear layer (INL) and the border of the INL and outer plexiform layer (OPL) are displayed by the intermediate and deep inner retina segmentations, respectively (Figure 2B-C). The outer retina segmentation (Figure 2D) in normal eyes should show no blood flow between the OPL and Bruch membrane. A 10-µm slice directly below Bruch membrane is shown by the choriocapillaris segmentation (Figure 2E). Faster imaging speeds would allow a denser OCTA scan with an increased field of view.

Figure 2. Segmentation of different vascular layers using OCTA: superficial plexus (A), intermediate plexus (B), and deep plexus (C) of the inner retina. Also shown are the outer retina (D) and choriocapillaris (E).

Figure 3. OCTA of CNV before (A) and 2 months after (B) treatment with anti-VEGF injection. Overlay of the images in A and B show that the CNV appears to have regressed and become less dense (C).

The fastest OCTA acquisition speed, 400 000 a-scans per second, was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is being tested at the New England Eye Center in Boston. It employs a vertical cavity surface emitting laser with a swept-source OCT (SS-OCT) device. This ultrahigh-speed prototype obtains 500 x 500 a-scans in approximately 3.8 seconds, comparing five OCT b-scans at each cross-section to obtain four OCT angiograms that are merged to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. OCT angiograms up to 12.0 x 12.0 mm have been obtained. Manual segmentation of the OCT angiograms can be performed as described above. Additionally, the longer wavelength of the SS-OCT system (1060 nm) increases light penetration into pigmented tissues, thereby improving choroidal blood flow visualization compared with the shorter wavelength used in SD-OCT.5,7

Figure 4. OCTA of an eye with nonproliferative DR. A 3.0 x 3.0 mm image provides better fine detail of the microvasculature such as microaneurysms, indicated by circles (A). A 6.0 x 6.0 mm image shows a wider field of view (B). Areas of capillary nonperfusion are indicated by an asterisk.

What It Can Do

Exploration of the clinical utility of OCTA in evaluating retinal diseases has just begun. Because OCTA can image the separate retinal layers, it can be used to easily visualize choroidal neovascularization (CNV) in the outer retina of eyes with neovascular AMD. This may prove useful for monitoring CNV size and adjacent fluid noninvasively over time (Figure 3).6-8 OCTA is being used to elucidate pathologic changes in the retinal vasculature in diseases such as DR, vascular occlusive disease, and macular telangiectasia. The high resolution of OCTA provides information about areas of capillary nonperfusion, vessel dilation and attenuation, telangiectasias, microaneurysms, and vascular proliferation (Figure 4).9-10 Further studies are needed to gain a better understanding of the technology, including its potential role in screening, monitoring, and guiding treatment decisions. n

Talisa E. de Carlo, BA, is in the optical coherence tomography fellowship program at the New England Eye Center in Boston, and is a fourth-year medical student at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Ms. de Carlo may be reached at talisa.e.decarlo@gmail.com.

Jay S. Duker, MD, is the director of the New England Eye Center and chairman of the department of ophthalmology, Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Dr. Duker is a member of the Retina Today editorial board. He is a consultant for and receives research support from Carl Zeiss Meditec, OptoVue, and Topcon Medical Systems. Dr. Duker may be reached at jduker@tufts-nemc.org.

David R. Lally, MD, is a second-year surgical vitreoretinal fellow at the New England Eye Center, Tufts University, Boston, and Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston. Upon the end of fellowship, he will be joining New England Retina Consultants in Springfield, Massachusetts. Dr. Lally may be reached at david.lally@gmail.com.

Gregory D. Lee, MD, is an ophthalmology resident at the New England Eye Center, Tufts University, Boston. Next year he will be a first-year surgical vitreoretinal fellow in a dual program at the Retina Associates of Kentucky and the University of Kentucky. Dr. Lee may be reached at gregdlee@gmail.com.

1. Kim DY, Finger J, Zawadzki RJ, et al. Optical Imaging of the chorioretinal vasculature in the living human eye. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2013;110:14354-143549.

2. Schwartz DM, Fingler J, Kim DY, et al. Phase-variance optical coherence tomography: a technique for noninvasive angiography. Ophthalmology. 2014;121:180-187.

3. Spaide RF, Klancnik JM, Cooney MJ. Retinal vascular layers imaged by fluorescein angiography and optical coherence tomography angiography. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015;133(1):45-50.

4. Matsunaga D, Puliafito CA, Kashani AH. OCT angiography in healthy human subjects. Ophthalmic Surg Lasers Imaging Retina. 2014;45(6):510-515.

5. Choi W, Mohler KJ, Potsaid B, et al. Choriocapillaris and choroidal microvasculature imaging with ultrahigh speed OCT angiography. PLoS One. 2013;8:e81499.

6. de Carlo TE, Bonini Filho MA, Chin AT, et al. Spectral domain optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) of choroidal neovascularization. Ophthalmology. In press.

7. Moult E, Choi W, Waheed NK et al. Ultrahigh-speed swept-source OCT angiography in exudative AMD. Ophthalmic Surg Lasers Imaging Retina. 2014;45(6):496-505.

8. Jia Y, Bailey ST, Wilson DJ, et al. Quantitative optical coherence tomography angiography of choroidal neovascularization in age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmology. 2014;121(7):1435-1444.

9. Spaide RF, Klancnik JM, Cooney MJ. Retinal vascular layers in macular telangiectasia type 2 imaged by optical coherence tomographic angiography. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015;133(1):66-73.

10. Thorell MR, Zhang Q, Huang Y, et al. Swept-source OCT angiography of macular telangiectasia type 2. Ophthalmic Surg Lasers Imaging Retina. 2014; 45:369-380.


Contact Info

Bryn Mawr Communications LLC
1008 Upper Gulph Road, Suite 200
Wayne, PA 19087

Phone: 484-581-1800
Fax: 484-581-1818

Karen Roman

Janet Burk

About Retina Today

Retina Today is a publication that delivers the latest research and clinical developments from areas such as medical retina, retinal surgery, vitreous, diabetes, retinal imaging, posterior segment oncology and ocular trauma. Each issue provides insight from well-respected specialists on cutting-edge therapies and surgical techniques that are currently in use and on the horizon.