Neuroretinal Dysfunction With Intact Blood-Retinal Barrier and Absent Vasculopathy in Diabetes Type 1

  1. Miguel Castelo-Branco1
  1. 1Visual Neuroscience Laboratory, Institute for Biomedical Imaging in Life Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
  2. 2Association for Innovation and Biomedical Research on Light and Image, Coimbra, Portugal
  3. 3Coimbra University Hospital, Coimbra, Portugal
  1. Corresponding author: Miguel Castelo-Branco, mcbranco{at}


It is unknown whether independent neural damage may occur in the pre-/absent vascular diabetic retinopathy (DR). To exclude vasculopathy, it is important to measure the integrity of the blood-retinal barrier (BRB). This cross-sectional study addressed this problem in type 1 diabetic patients with normal ocular fundus and absent breakdown of the BRB (confirmed with vitreous fluorometry). These were compared with a group with disrupted BRB (with normal fundus or initial DR) and normal controls. Multifocal electroretinography and chromatic/achromatic contrast sensitivity were measured in these 42 patients with preserved visual acuity. Amplitudes of neurophysiological responses (multifocal electroretinogram) were decreased in all eccentricity rings in both clinical groups, when compared with controls, with sensitivity >78% for a specificity level of 90%. Implicit time changes were also found in the absence of initial DR. Impaired contrast sensitivity along chromatic axes was also observed, and achromatic thresholds were also different between controls and both clinical groups. The pattern of changes in the group without baseline BRB permeability alterations, as probed by psychophysical and electrophysiological measurements, does thereby confirm independent damage mechanisms. We conclude that retinal neuronal changes can be diagnosed in type 1 diabetes, independently of breakdown of the BRB and onset of vasculopathy.

  • Received October 29, 2013.
  • Accepted May 6, 2014.

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