Background: The carbonic anhydrase inhibitor acetazolamide (AZM) reduces macular oedema in some patients with retinitis pigmentosa. To better understand the oedema-reducing effect of AZM, the effect of AZM on passive permeability and active transport of fluorescein across the blood-retina barrier was studied in patients with retinitis pigmentosa and varying degrees of macular oedema.
Method: The selection of patients was based on an introductory examination including vitreous fluorometry for qualitative assessment of the vitreous. Macular oedema was graded by fluorescein angiographic leakage. The effect of AZM on the transport properties of the blood-retina barrier was determined by differential spectrofluorometry, in a randomised, double-masked, cross-over study, comprising 2 weeks' treatment with AZM (500 mg/day) and 2 weeks' treatment with placebo. The penetration ratio, defined as the ratio between vitreous concentration 3 mm in front of the retina and the plasma integral, was determined for fluorescein and its metabolite fluorescein glucuronide at 30-60 min and at 120 min after fluorescein injection. Passive permeability and unidirectional permeability in the direction vitreous to blood, due to outward active transport of fluorescein, were determined in those cases where the curves for vitreous concentration of fluorescein could be fitted to a mathematical model. Visual acuity was tested by use of ETDRS standard logarithmic charts.
Results: Twenty-two patients volunteered to participate in the study. Signs of significant vitreous detachment/liquefaction caused the exclusion of ten patients after the introductory examination. Nine patients with approximately intact vitreous and varying degrees of oedema completed the cross-over study. AZM treatment was related to a decrease in the penetration ratio of 21% for fluorescein (P=0.01) and of 22% for fluorescein glucuronide (P=0.004). Passive permeability and unidirectional permeability were determined in seven patients. AZM caused a decrease of 27% in the passive permeability of fluorescein (from 1.1 x 10(1) nm/s, P=0.031), and a 95% increase in unidirectional permeability of fluorescein (from 1.2 x 10(2) nm/s, P=0.047). AZM led to a reduction in the grade of macular oedema as determined by fluorescein angiography in three out of seven patients. Only small improvements (< or =5 letters) in visual acuity were noted.
Conclusion: The present study indicates that the oedema-reducing effect of AZM is due to decreased leakage and stimulated active transport across the blood-retina barrier.