Correlation of diabetic retinopathy and corneal neuropathy using confocal microscopy

Curr Eye Res. 2012 Oct;37(10):898-906. doi: 10.3109/02713683.2012.683507. Epub 2012 May 25.


Purpose/aim: To employ corneal confocal microscopy to assess differences in the extent of corneal nerve fiber alterations between diabetic patients classed according to retinopathy status and nondiabetic patients.

Materials and methods: Two hundred seventy-eight corneas of 139 patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and 94 corneas of 47 age-matched control participants were scanned using corneal confocal microscopy. Images of the subbasal nerve plexus were collected and analyzed for nerve fiber density (NFD), nerve branch density (NBD), nerve fiber length (NFL), and nerve fiber tortuosity (NFT). Diabetic patients were categorized into three groups according to the classification of diabetic retinopathy (DR) proposed in the Early Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy Study, based on indirect fundoscopy, fundus photography, and fluorescein angiography findings. A separate classification into four groups according to the severity of peripheral diabetic neuropathy (DN) was also used, based on the results of clinical and electrodiagnostic examinations.

Results: Average NFD, NBD, and NFL differed significantly according to DR status and were found to be lower, whereas NFT was found to be higher in diabetic patients than control participants. A positive correlation between diabetic corneal neuropathy and peripheral DN was also found.

Conclusions: Nerve fiber alterations of the subbasal nerve plexus of diabetic corneas appear to progress in parallel with DR and peripheral DN. Corneal confocal microscopy could possibly represent a promising adjuvant technique for the early diagnosis and assessment of human DN.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cornea / innervation*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / pathology*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / classification
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / pathology*
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Ophthalmological*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Electrodiagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology*