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Biomed Opt Express. 2016 Oct 13;7(11):4554-4568. eCollection 2016 Nov 1.

Photoreceptor disc shedding in the living human eye.

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School of Optometry, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.
Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Science, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Cone photoreceptors undergo a daily cycle of renewal and shedding of membranous discs in their outer segments (OS), the portion responsible for light capture. These physiological processes are fundamental to maintaining photoreceptor health, and their dysfunction is associated with numerous retinal diseases. While both processes have been extensively studied in animal models and postmortem eyes, little is known about them in the living eye, in particular human. In this study, we report discovery of the optical signature associated with disc shedding using a method based on adaptive optics optical coherence tomography (AO-OCT) in conjunction with post-processing methods to track and monitor individual cone cells in 4D. The optical signature of disc shedding is characterized by an abrupt transient loss in the cone outer segment tip (COST) reflection followed by its return that is axially displaced anteriorly. Using this signature, we measured the temporal and spatial properties of shedding events in three normal subjects. Average duration of the shedding event was 8.8 ± 13.4 minutes, and average length loss of the OS was 2.1 μm (7.0% of OS length). Prevalence of cone shedding was highest in the morning (14.3%) followed by the afternoon (5.7%) and evening (4.0%), with load distributed across the imaged patch. To the best of our knowledge these are the first images of photoreceptor disc shedding in the living retina.


(110.1080) Active or adaptive optics; (170.4470) Ophthalmology; (170.4500) Optical coherence tomography; (330.4300) Vision system - noninvasive assessment; (330.5310) Vision - photoreceptors; (330.7331) Visual optics, receptor optics

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