PURPOSE: In individuals with diabetes, injury to the corneal nerve fibres predisposes to delayed corneal epithelial healing, reduced corneal sensitivity and corneal erosion. We investigated to what extent a reduction in corneal nerve fibre length (CNFL) is present in individuals with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes (DM2) compared with individuals with normal glucose metabolism (NGM). METHODS: Using composite images acquired by corneal confocal microscopy, we assessed total CNFL per mm2 in the subbasal nerve plexus of the cornea in 134 participants (mean age 59 ± 8 years, 49% men, 87 NGM, 20 prediabetes, 27 DM2). Multivariable linear regression was used to assess the association between CNFL and glucose metabolism status, adjusted for age and sex. RESULTS: In individuals with type 2 diabetes, the mean CNFL was significantly reduced [β = -1.86 mm/mm2 (95% CI -3.64 to -0.08), p = 0.04], as compared with individuals with normal glucose metabolism after adjustment for age and sex. Part of the reduction was present in individuals with prediabetes [β = -0.96 mm/mm2 (95% CI -2.91 to 0.99), p = 0.34], with a linear trend of corneal nerve fibre reduction with severity of glucose metabolism status (p trend = 0.04). CONCLUSIONS: A significant reduction in CNFL was found in individuals with DM2 compared with individuals with NGM. A trend of reduction in CNFL was observed between individuals with NGM and prediabetes. The reduction in corneal nerve fibre length could contribute to a delayed corneal healing and an increased risk for corneal complications after surgery.
corneal confocal microscopy, corneal nerves, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes