Decreased retinal blood flow has been measured in streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetes of 1 week's duration, and primary insulin intervention was effective in maintaining normal retinal blood flow in diabetic rats. Retinal blood-flow abnormalities precede clinical diabetic retinopathy in both diabetic animals and patients. An important characteristic of diabetic retinopathy is the difficulty of reversibility once it has been established. Because altered retinal hemodynamics is a possible marker of early diabetic retinopathy, we investigated in this study whether retinal blood-flow changes in rats can be normalized by secondary insulin intervention following short and chronic periods of untreated STZ-induced diabetes. Subcutaneous insulin pumps were placed into diabetic rats for 1 week after 1 week of diabetes (2-week group) and after 3 weeks of diabetes (4-week group). Retinal circulatory parameters were determined using image analysis of video fluorescein angiogram recordings. For the 2-week group, retinal blood flow was significantly (P < 0.05) reduced in the untreated diabetic rats compared with nondiabetic and insulin-treated diabetic rats (80.6+/-29.2, 131.9+/-50.1, and 151.3+/-54.0 pixels2/s respectively). Retinal blood flow was also significantly (P < 0.05) reduced in the 4-week untreated diabetic rats compared with nondiabetic rats (95.7+/-22.2 vs. 125.7+/-29.5 pixels2/s). In contrast to the shorter-duration group, insulin treatment for 1 week after 3 weeks of diabetes did not totally normalize retinal blood flow (117.5+/-32.4 pixels2/s). These results suggest that vascular abnormalities could become more resistant to normalization following short-term (1 week) insulin treatment after longer periods of untreated diabetes.

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