Quantifying frequency content in cross-sectional retinal scans of diabetics vs. controls

PLoS One. 2021 Jun 18;16(6):e0253091. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253091. eCollection 2021.


Purpose: To examine subtle differences in the structure of diabetic vs. control retinas.

Methods: Spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) images were compared for the retinas of 33 diabetic subjects who did not have clinical evidence of diabetic macular edema and age-matched controls, with central macular thicknesses of 275 and 276 microns, respectively. Cross-sectional retinal images through the fovea, called B-scans, were analyzed for spatial frequency content. The B-scans were processed to remove and smooth the portions of the retinal image not within regions of interest in the retina. The remaining retinal images were then quantified using a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) approach that provided amplitude as a function of spatial frequency.

Results: The FFT analysis showed that diabetic retinas had spatial frequency content with significantly higher power compared to control retinas particularly for a deeper fundus layer at mid-range spatial frequencies, ranging from p = 0.0030 to 0.0497 at 16.8 to 18.2 microns/cycle. There was lower power at higher spatial frequencies, ranging from p = 0.0296 and 0.0482 at 27.4 and 29.0 microns/cycle. The range of mid-range frequencies corresponds to the sizes of small blood vessel abnormalities and hard exudates. Retinal thickness did not differ between the two groups.

Conclusions: Diabetic retinas, although not thicker than controls, had subtle but quantifiable pattern changes in SD-OCT images particularly in deeper fundus layers. The size range and distribution of this pattern in diabetic eyes were consistent with small blood vessel abnormalities and leakage of lipid and fluid. Feature-based biomarkers may augment retinal thickness criteria for management of diabetic eye complications, and may detect early changes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / diagnostic imaging*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macular Edema / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiographic Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Retina / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence