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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2011 Nov 29;52(12):9257-66. doi: 10.1167/iovs.11-8481.

Disruption of the retinal parafoveal capillary network in type 2 diabetes before the onset of diabetic retinopathy.

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UC Berkeley School of Optometry,Rm 485 Minor Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-2020, USA.



To establish, using adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO), that the retinal parafoveal capillary network is altered before the onset of diabetic retinopathy in adult patients with type 2 diabetes.


AOSLO videos were acquired in the parafoveal region of one eye from control subjects and from patients with type 2 diabetes and no retinopathy. Detailed images of the parafoveal capillary network were generated with custom motion contrast enhancement algorithms. The combination of AOSLO images and videos enabled the simultaneous assessment of several features of the parafoveal capillary network. Arteriovenous (AV) channels were identified by finding the least tortuous capillary channels connecting terminal arterioles to postcapillary venules. Measures of capillary dropout and capillary hemodynamics were also quantified.


The average tortuosity of AV channels was 26% higher in patients with type 2 diabetes when compared with controls, even though there were no signs of diabetic retinopathy in any of the eyes that were assessed (P < 0.05). In addition, the metrics of capillary dropout showed small changes (between 3% and 7%), leukocyte speed 14% lower, and pulsatility 25% higher, but none of these differences was statistically significant.


It is often difficult to find consistent changes in the retinal microvasculature due to large intersubject variability. However, with a novel application of AOSLO imaging, it is possible to visualize parafoveal capillaries and identify AV channels noninvasively. AV channels are disrupted in type 2 diabetes, even before the onset of diabetic retinopathy.

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