Macrophage-like cell density is increased in proliferative diabetic retinopathy characterized by optical coherence tomography angiography

Janice X. Ong, Peter L. Nesper, Amani A. Fawzi, Jacob M. Wang, Jeremy A. Lavine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


PURPOSE. To quantitatively characterize macrophage-like cells (MLCs) at the vitreoretinal interface in different severity stages of diabetic retinopathy (DR) using optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA). METHODS. The study included 72 eyes of 72 subjects: 18 healthy controls, 22 diabetes mellitus (DM) without DR, 17 nonproliferative DR (NPDR), and 15 proliferative DR (PDR). We obtained repeated (average, 6.5; range, 3-10) macular OCTA scans for each eye. We registered and averaged the 3-μm OCT slab above the vitreoretinal interface to visualize MLCs. Using a semiautomated method, we binarized and quantified MLCs and compared MLC densities among groups. We also evaluated MLC distribution relative to underlying superficial capillary plexus vasculature and quantified MLCs overlying blood vessels within the perivascular 30-μm watershed region and within ischemic zones (defined as >30 μm from the nearest vessel). RESULTS. MLC density was 2.8- to 3.8-fold higher in PDR compared with all other groups (P < 0.05 for all). MLC density in PDR was most increased in perivascular areas (3.3- to 4.2-fold; P < 0.05 vs. all) and on blood vessels (3.0- to 4.0-fold; P < 0.05 vs. all), and elevated to a lesser extent in ischemic areas (2.3- to 3.4-fold; P < 0.05 vs. all). MLCs were more likely to localize on blood vessels in DM without DR, NPDR, and PDR (P < 0.05 for all), but not healthy eyes. CONCLUSIONS. MLC density was significantly increased in PDR. MLCs clustered on blood vessels in diabetic but not in healthy eyes. Further studies are needed to confirm the origin, identity, and function of MLCs during DR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA2
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Macula
  • OCT
  • OCTA
  • Optical coherence tomography angiography
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy
  • Retina

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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