Circulating leukocyte alterations and the development/progression of diabetic retinopathy in type 1 diabetic patients - a pilot study

Gideon Obasanmi, Noemi Lois, David Armstrong, Nuala Jane Lavery, Jose R Hombrebueno, Aisling Lynch, David Wright, Mei Chen, Heping Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background/Aims: The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between alterations in circulating leukocytes and the initiation and progression of DR in people with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Methods: Forty-one patients with T1D [13 mild non-proliferative DR (mNPDR), 14 active proliferative DR (aPDR) and 14 inactive PDR (iPDR)], and 13 age- and gender-matched healthy controls were recruited prospectively. Circulating leukocytes, including CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells, CD14+CD16-, CD14-CD16+ and CD14+CD16+ monocytes; CD16+HLA-DR- neutrophils, CD19+ B-cells and CD56+ natural killer cells and their cell surface adhesion molecules and chemokine receptors (HLA-DR, CD62L, CCR2, CCR5, CD66a, CD157 and CD305) were examined by flow cytometry.

Results: In DR patients, compared to healthy controls, increased proportions of neutrophils (p = .0152); reduced proportions of lymphocytes (p = .0002), HLA-DR+ leukocytes (p = .0406) and non-classical monocytes (p = .0204); and reduced expression of CD66a (p = .0048) and CD157 (p = .0007) on CD4+ T cells were observed. Compared to healthy controls, CD19+ B cells were reduced at the mNPDR but not aPDR patients. Total lymphocytes, CD4+ T cells and CD8+ T cells progressively decreased whereas neutrophils, the neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio and the neutrophil/CD4+ ratio progressively increased from early to late stages of DR, reaching statistical significance at the aPDR stage. Longer diabetes duration was associated with a reduced proportion of CD8+ T cells (p = .002) and increased neutrophil/CD8+ ratio (p = .033).

Conclusions: In this pilot study, DR is associated with increased innate cellular immunity especially neutrophils and reduced adaptive cellular immunity particularly lymphocytes. Impaired B-cell immunity may play a role in the initiation of DR; whereas impaired T-cell immunity with increased neutrophil response may contribute to progression of DR from non-proliferative to proliferative stages in T1D patients. Large multicenter studies are needed to further understand the immune dysregulation in DR initiation and progression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1144-1154
JournalCurrent eye research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2020


  • Type 1 diabetes
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • flow cytometry
  • lymphocytes
  • neutrophils

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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