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Pupillary autonomic denervation with increasing duration of diabetes mellitus
  1. Mark Cahill,
  2. Peter Eustace,
  3. Victor de Jesus
  1. The Institute of Ophthalmology, University College Dublin, Mater Misericordiae Hospital, 60 Eccles Street, Dublin 7, Ireland
  1. Mark Cahill, Duke University Eye Center, Erwin Road, PO Box 3802, Durham, NC 27710, USA cahill001{at}


BACKGROUND/AIMS The autonomic pupillary changes in type I and II diabetic patients without clinical evidence of diabetic autonomic neuropathy (DAN) were compared with age matched controls. The relation between pupillary and cardiovascular autonomic function was assessed in the diabetic patients.

METHODS A case-control study was performed with diabetics grouped according to type and duration of diabetes. Static infrared pupillography was used to compare mean dark adapted pupil size and mean percentage changes in pupil size with pilocarpine 0.1% and cocaine 4% in the diabetic and control groups. All diabetic patients underwent cardiovascular autonomic function assessment using the Valsalva ratio, the 30:15 ratio, and testing for orthostatic hypotension.

RESULTS In total, 72 type I and 69 type II diabetic patients were compared with 120 controls. Mean dark adapted pupil size was significantly smaller in diabetic groups than controls. Except for type I diabetics with disease for less than 5 years, all patient groups had significantly greater mean percentage constriction in pupil size in response to dilute pilocarpine than controls. There was no significant difference between the mean percentage dilatation in response to cocaine 4% in diabetics and controls. A high proportion of patients had normal cardiovascular autonomic function particularly when this was assessed with the Valsalva ratio.

CONCLUSIONS Denervation hypersensitivity to dilute pilocarpine is a result of damage to the pupillary parasympathetic supply of diabetic patients. This occurs before the pupillary sympathetic pathway is affected, it can be detected early in the disease, and it may be a possible explanation for the small pupil size seen in diabetic patients. Pupillary autonomic dysfunction occurs before cardiovascular autonomic changes and detection of pupil denervation hypersensitivity to dilute pilocarpine is an inexpensive way to detect early DAN.

  • pupillary autonomic denervation
  • diabetic autonomic neuropathy
  • diabetes mellitus
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