Retinal neurodegeneration in diabetic patients without diabetic retinopathy

Joana Tavares Ferreira, Marta Alves, Arnaldo Dias-Santos, Lívio Costa, Bruno Oliveira Santos, João Paulo Cunha, Ana Luísa Papoila, Luís Abegão Pinto

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53 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE. To compare the thickness of all retinal layers between a nondiabetic group and diabetic patients without diabetic retinopathy (DR). METHODS. Cross-sectional study, in which all subjects underwent an ophthalmic examination including optical coherence tomography. After automatic retinal segmentation, each retinal layer thickness (eight separate layers and overall thickness) was calculated in all nine Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study (ETDRS) areas. The choroidal thickness (CT) also was measured at five locations. Generalized additive regression models were used to analyze the data. RESULTS. A total of 175 patients were recruited, 50 nondiabetic subjects and 125 diabetic patients without DR, stratified into three groups according to diabetes duration: group I (<5 years, n = 55), group II (5-10 years, n = 39), and group III (>10 years, n = 31). Overall, groups I and III of diabetic patients had a decrease in the photoreceptor layer (PR) thickness, when compared with the nondiabetic subjects in six ETDRS areas (P < 0.0007). Patients with more recent diagnosis (group I) had thinner PR than those with moderate duration (group II). Interestingly, patients with longer known disease (group III) had the thinnest PR values. There were no overall differences in the remaining retinal parameters. CONCLUSIONS. Retinal thickness profile is not linear throughout disease duration. Even in the absence of funduscopic disease, PR layer in diabetic patients seems to differ from nondiabetic subjects, thus suggesting that some form of neurodegeneration may take place before clinical signs of vascular problems arise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6455-6460
Number of pages6
JournalInvestigative ophthalmology & visual science
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Optical coherence tomography
  • Retinal layers


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