Leptin is a vasoactive peptide that has been linked to diseases associated with macrovascular deterioration. What is still uncertain is its involvement in the microvasculature. Since microvascular changes are presumed to precede macrovascular deterioration, we examined whether measures of the retinal microvasculature are associated with leptin in healthy, young Black and White individuals.
We included 283 Black and 289 White men and women (aged 20–30 years). We determined serum leptin, calculated central retinal artery and vein equivalents and arterio-venous ratio. We also measured retinal vessel responses to light flicker provocation.
Black men were leaner and had lower leptin than White men, whereas Black women had increased adiposity and leptin compared to White women (all p<0.001). Black groups had narrower retinal arteries, and greater maximum arteriolar and venular dilations in response to light flicker than the White groups (p<0.001). Arterio-venous ratio associated negatively with leptin (all p≤0.044) in all groups (except Black women), but was lost upon adjustment for body mass index and other covariates. We found an inverse association between maximal venular dilation and leptin only in Black men in single and multiple regression analyses (Std β= -0.22; R2=0.05; p=0.035). No associations were found between other retinal measures with leptin in the other groups.
We found an independent, negative association between retinal vein dilation with leptin in healthy, young Black men, suggesting a potential detrimental role for leptin in regulating microvascular responses in a population group known to be at greater risk of cardiovascular disease development.