BACKGROUND: To evaluate the earliest retinal morphological and functional changes in diabetic eyes without or with early signs of diabetic retinopathy (DR).
METHODS: Twenty-two eyes with no DR (noDR group), 22 eyes with mild DR (DR group), and 18 healthy nondiabetic eyes (controls) were enrolled. All eyes were studied by means of spectral domain optical coherence tomography (OCT), OCT angiography (OCTA), and multifocal electroretinogram (mfERG).
RESULTS: A significantly higher number of OCT hyperreflective intraretinal foci (HRF) was found in both noDR and DR groups versus controls, but not between DR groups. The OCTA parameters of the superficial vascular plexus (SVP) were significantly reduced in the noDR group both versus controls and DR group (p < 0.05). The OCTA parameters of the intermediate capillary plexus (ICP) were significantly reduced in the DR group versus controls. An increased number of altered hexagons on mfERG was found in the noDR versus the DR group (p = 0.0192).
CONCLUSIONS: Retinal vascular and functional parameters are differently involved in diabetic eyes; major vascular changes in the SVP and functional alterations of the mfERG are present in diabetic eyes with no clinical microvascular signs of DR, while ICP is mainly involved when early ophthalmoscopic signs of DR are present. The integrated use of mfERG and OCTA provides new significant insights into the pathogenesis of diabetic related retinal disease.