A thinning of the inner retina is one of the earliest potential markers of neuroretinal damage in diabetic subjects. The histological background is uncertain; retinal ganglion cell (RGC) loss and changes in the structure or thickness of the inner plexiform layer (IPL) have been suspected. Studies conducted on animal models on RGC pathology gave contradictory results. Hereby we present RGC numbers, distribution patterns and IPL thickness from Zucker Diabetic Fatty (ZDF) rats. After labelling RGCs on retinal whole mounts, isodensity maps were constructed, RGC numbers and distribution patterns analysed using a custom-built algorithm, enabling point-by-point comparison. There was no change in staining characteristics of the antibodies and no significant difference in average RGC densities was found compared to controls. The distribution patterns were also comparable and no significant difference was found in IPL thickness and stratification or in the number of apoptotic cells in the ganglion cell layer (GCL). Our results provide a detailed evaluation of the inner retina and exclude major RGC loss in ZDF rats and suggest that other factors could serve as a potential explanation for inner retinal thinning in clinical studies. Our custom-built method could be adopted for the assessment of other animal or human retinas.
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