Polarization sensitive optical coherence tomography of melanin provides intrinsic contrast based on depolarization

Biomed Opt Express. 2012 Jul 1;3(7):1670-83. doi: 10.1364/BOE.3.001670. Epub 2012 Jun 21.


Polarization sensitive optical coherence tomography (PS-OCT) is a functional extension of OCT. In addition to imaging based on tissue reflectivity, PS-OCT also enables depth-resolved mapping of sample polarization properties such as phase-retardation, birefringent axis orientation, Stokes vectors, and degree of polarization uniformity (DOPU). In this study, PS-OCT was used to investigate the polarization properties of melanin. In-vitro measurements in samples with varying melanin concentrations revealed polarization scrambling, i.e. depolarization of backscattered light. Polarization scrambling in the PS-OCT images was more pronounced for higher melanin concentrations and correlated with the concentration of the melanin granules in the phantoms. Moreover, in-vivo PS-OCT was performed in the retinas of normal subjects and individuals with albinism. Unlike in the normal eye, polarization scrambling in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) was less pronounced or even not observable in PS-OCT images of albinos. These results indicate that the depolarizing appearance of pigmented structures like, for instance, the RPE is likely to be caused by the melanin granules contained in these cells.

Keywords: (170.4470) Ophthalmology; (170.4500) Optical coherence tomography; (170.4580) Optical diagnostics for medicine; (170.6935) Tissue characterization; (230.5440) Polarization-selective devices.