To investigate microglial activation in human diabetic retinopathy.
Paraffin sections from 21 eyes of 13 patients with diabetic background, preproliferative, or proliferative retinopathies and 10 normal eyes of 9 individuals were studied with immunolabeling of microglia with antibodies against HLA-DR antigen, CD45, or CD68.
In the healthy human eyes, ramified microglial cells were scattered in the inner retinal layers. In eyes with diabetic retinopathy, the microglia were markedly increased in number and were hypertrophic at different stages of the disease. These cells clustered around the retinal vasculature, especially the dilated veins, microaneurysms, intraretinal hemorrhages, cotton-wool spots, optic nerve, and retinal and vitreal neovascularization. In some retinas with cystoid macular edema, microglia infiltrated the outer retina and subretinal space. Cells in the epiretinal membrane were also labeled with microglial markers.
Microglia were activated at different stages of human diabetic retinopathy and optic neuropathy. Microglial perivasculitis was a prominent feature of the disease process.
Activated microglia and microglial perivasculitis may play a role in vasculopathy and neuropathy in diabetic retinopathy.