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Association between choroidopathy and photoreceptors during the early stage of diabetic retinopathy: a cross-sectional study.

PURPOSE: To explore the role of choroidopathy in diabetic retinopathy (DR) by investigating the correlation between alterations of choroidal vessel and photoreceptors during the early stage of DR.

METHODS: We performed a cross-sectional comparison of diabetic patients without DR (NDR group; n=16) and those with mild nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR group; n=39). Optical coherence tomography (OCT) images of choroidal vessel alterations and photoreceptor structures were evaluated using the choroidal vascularity index (CVI) and adjusted ellipsoid zone (EZ) reflectivity, respectively. To evaluate the function of cone photoreceptors, the fundamental, harmonic amplitudes, the parameters S and Rmp3 were calculated from the electroretinogram (ERG). These factors were compared between groups. The correlation between the CVI and parameters describing the function and structure of the photoreceptors was evaluated.

RESULTS: The significant decrease was observed in the CVI in the NPDR group compared to the NDR group (0.67 ± 0.04 vs. 0.70 ± 0.06; p = 0.028), but not in the adjusted EZ reflectivity or ERG parameters. In NPDR group and merging the 2 groups, CVI was moderately positively correlated with the fundamental amplitude obtained by the flicker ERG (NPDR only: r = 0.506; p = 0.001; merge the 2 groups: r = 0.423; p = 0.001), which was regulated by the response of the cone photoreceptors. The CVI was positively and moderately correlated with the logS (NPDR only: r = 0.462; p = 0.003; merge the 2 groups: r = 0.355; p = 0.008), indicating the sensitivity of cone cell light transduction.

CONCLUSION: Compared to eyes without DR, CVI decreased representing choroidal vascular changes in eyes with mild NPDR. These changes may be related to the functional impairment of cone photoreceptors, especially phototransduction sensitivity, as the DR develops.

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