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May 1993

Sub-Pigment Epithelial Membranes After Photocoagulation for Diabetic Macular Edema

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Arch Ophthalmol. 1993;111(5):608-613. doi:10.1001/archopht.1993.01090050042025

• Objective.  —The chronic histopathologic effects of focal and grid argon laser photocoagulation were examined in eyes obtained at autopsy that had previously been treated for diabetic macular edema. The focus was on further characterizing fibrous sub-pigment epithelial membranes that previously had been shown to extend beyond burn edges.

Design.  —A total of 131 argon laser burns were evaluated in five eyes. Tissue was embedded in paraffin or glycol methacrylate, serially sectioned, and examined by light microscopy.

Main Outcome Measure.  —Outer and inner nuclear layer defects were measured, and the frequency and extent of sub-pigment epithelial membranes was estimated. The presence of Müller cell processes among membranes was evaluated by immunostaining for glial fibrillary acidic protein and enzyme histochemical staining for carbonic anhydrase.

Results.  —Burns consistently produced defects in the outer nuclear layer that were larger than the spot size of the laser beam. Inner nuclear layer defects were present in only seven of 131 burns. Glycol methacrylate-embedded tissue sections from 73 burns showed sub-pigment epithelial membranes in all five eyes. In one eye, membranes were confluent between burns. In the remaining four eyes, 37 individual membranes were found among 53 burns, and 47% of membranes contained Müller cell processes. The membranes in paraffin-embedded tissue could not be adequately evaluated.

Conclusions.  —After focal laser treatment for diabetic macular edema, the inner retina was usually spared. Fibrous sub-pigment epithelial membranes were frequent among burns in all five eyes, and they showed a conspicuous contribution by Müller cell processes. We speculate that by impairing the overlying pigment epithelium, these membranes may contribute to a progressive enlargement of laser scars.

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