IMPORTANCE: Efforts are underway to incorporate retinal neurodegeneration in the diabetic retinopathy severity scale. However, there is no established measure to quantify diabetic retinal neurodegeneration (DRN).
OBJECTIVE: We compared total retinal, macular retinal nerve fiber layer (mRNFL) and ganglion cell-inner plexiform layer (GC-IPL) thickness among participants with and without diabetes (DM) in a population-based cohort.
DESIGN/SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Cross-sectional analysis, using the UK Biobank data resource. Separate general linear mixed models (GLMM) were created using DM and glycated hemoglobin as predictor variables for retinal thickness. Sub-analyses included comparing thickness measurements for patients with no/mild diabetic retinopathy (DR) and evaluating factors associated with retinal thickness in participants with and without diabetes. Factors found to be significantly associated with DM or thickness were included in a multiple GLMM.
EXPOSURE: Diagnosis of DM was determined via self-report of diagnosis, medication use, DM-related complications or glycated hemoglobin level of ≥ 6.5%.
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Total retinal, mRNFL and GC-IPL thickness.
RESULTS: 74,422 participants (69,985 with no DM; 4,437 with DM) were included. Median age was 59 years, 46% were men and 92% were white. Participants with DM had lower total retinal thickness (-4.57 μm, 95% CI: -5.00, -4.14; p<0.001), GC-IPL thickness (-1.73 μm, 95% CI: -1.86, -1.59; p<0.001) and mRNFL thickness (-0.68 μm, 95% CI: -0.81, -0.54; p<0.001) compared to those without DM. After adjusting for co-variates, in the GLMM, total retinal thickness was 1.99 um lower (95% CI: -2.47, -1.50; p<0.001) and GC-IPL was 1.02 μm lower (95% CI: -1.18, -0.87; p<0.001) among those with DM compared to without. mRNFL was no longer significantly different (p = 0.369). GC-IPL remained significantly lower, after adjusting for co-variates, among those with DM compared to those without DM when including only participants with no/mild DR (-0.80 μm, 95% CI: -0.98, -0.62; p<0.001). Total retinal thickness decreased 0.40 μm (95% CI: -0.61, -0.20; p<0.001), mRNFL thickness increased 0.20 μm (95% CI: 0.14, 0.27; p<0.001) and GC-IPL decreased 0.26 μm (95% CI: -0.33, -0.20; p<0.001) per unit increase in A1c after adjusting for co-variates. Among participants with diabetes, age, DR grade, ethnicity, body mass index, glaucoma, spherical equivalent, and visual acuity were significantly associated with GC-IPL thickness.
CONCLUSION: GC-IPL was thinner among participants with DM, compared to without DM. This difference persisted after adjusting for confounding variables and when considering only those with no/mild DR. This confirms that GC-IPL thinning occurs early in DM and can serve as a useful marker of DRN.