Purpose: To investigate the correlation between the retinal vascular fractal dimension (Fd) and neurodegenerative changes in patients with no or mild diabetic retinopathy (DR).
Methods: In this cross-sectional study we examined 103 patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) with no or mild DR. In a randomly selected eye of each patient, Fd was calculated using SIVA-Fractal, a specialized semiautomatic software. Retinal neurodegeneration was evaluated by Topcon 3D OCT-2000 spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (OCT) and by a RETI-scan multifocal ERG (mf-ERG) system in rings one to six. Level of DR was determined by a single trained grader in seven-field fundus photos according to the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study (ETDRS) scale.
Results: Mean age and duration of T2DM were 62.3 and 11.6 years, respectively; 46.6% were men. Mean Fd was 1.413 (range, 1.278-1.509) and ETDRS levels were 10 (42.7%), 20 (35.0%), and 35 (22.3%), respectively. Fd correlated inversely with mf-ERG implicit time of ring one (r = -0.25, P = 0.01) and present diabetic neuropathy (P = 0.02), and positively with OCT ganglion cell layer (GCL) thickness (r = 0.20, P = 0.04). In a multivariable linear regression model, Fd was associated with mf-ERG implicit time of ring one (coefficient -0.0021/ms, P = 0.040) and the presence of diabetic neuropathy (coefficient -0.0209 for neuropathy present versus absent, P = 0.041).
Conclusions: In patients with T2DM and no or minimal DR, independent correlations were found between early vascular and neurogenic changes. Thus, retinal vascular fractal analysis might be considered as a tool to identify patients with early neurodegenerative retinal changes.