The healthy adult human retina contains in its macular region a high concentration of blue-light absorbing carotenoid compounds, known as macular pigment (MP). Consisting of the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin, the MP is thought to shield the vulnerable tissue layers in the retina from light-induced damage through its function as an optical attenuator and to protect the tissue cells within its immediate vicinity through its function as a potent antioxidant. Autofluorescence imaging (AFI) is emerging as a viable optical method for MP screening of large subject populations, for tracking of MP changes over time, and for monitoring MP uptake in response to dietary supplementation. To investigate the influence of ocular media opacities on AFI-based MP measurements, in particular, the influence of lens cataracts, we conducted a clinical trial with a large subject population (93 subjects) measured before and after cataract surgery. General AFI image contrast, retinal blood vessel contrast, and presurgery lens opacity scores [Lens Opacities Classification System III (LOCS III)] were investigated as potential predictors for image degradation. These clinical results show that lens cataracts can severely degrade the achievable pixel contrasts in the AFI images, which results in nominal MP optical density levels that are artifactually reduced. While LOCS III scores and blood vessel contrast are found to be only a weak predictor for this effect, a strong correlation exists between the reduction factor and the image contrast, which can be quantified via pixel intensity histogram parameters. Choosing the base width of the histogram, the presence or absence of ocular media opacities can be determined and, if needed, the nominal MP levels can be corrected with factors depending on the strength of the opacity.
We have developed a reflection-based capability of the RetCam® platform, an FDA-cleared pediatric retinal-imaging instrument, for the purpose of measuring macular pigment levels as well as their spatial distributions in infants and children. Our modifications include narrow-band blue-wavelength excitation of the macular pigment absorption in combination with spectrally selective blue-wavelength readout of the reflection signals received by the instrument’s CCD detector array. Furthermore, an algorithm is developed that allows the computation of optical density maps for the macular pigment relative to peripheral retinal areas. This made it possible for the first time to directly measure macular pigment levels and their spatial features in the developing human retina. In contrast to adults, infants with measurable pigment levels had almost exclusively a narrow, circularly symmetric, pigment distribution. The described methodology holds promise for future investigations into the role of macular pigment in the developing human retina and the effect of dietary interventions in diseases resulting from a lack of normal carotenoid levels.
Increasing evidence points to the beneficial effects of carotenoid antioxidants in the human body. Several studies, for example, support the protective role of lutein and zeaxanthin in the prevention of age-related eye diseases. If present in high concentrations in the macular region of the retina, lutein and zeaxanthin provide pigmentation in this most light sensitive retinal spot, and as a result of light filtering and/or antioxidant action, delay the onset of macular degeneration with increasing age. Other carotenoids, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, play an important role as well in the protection of skin from UV and short-wavelength visible radiation. Lutein and lycopene may also have protective function for cardiovascular health, and lycopene may play a role in the prevention of prostate cancer. Motivated by the growing importance of carotenoids in health and disease, and recognizing the lack of any accepted noninvasive technology for the detection of carotenoids in living human tissue, we explore resonance Raman spectroscopy as a novel approach for noninvasive, laser optical carotenoid detection. We review the main results achieved recently with the Raman detection approach. Initially we applied the method to the detection of macular carotenoid pigments, and more recently to the detection of carotenoids in human skin and mucosal tissues. Using skin carotenoid Raman instruments, we measure the carotenoid response from the stratum corneum layer of the palm of the hand for a population of 1375 subjects and develope a portable skin Raman scanner for field studies. These experiments reveal that carotenoids are a good indicator of antioxidant status.
Carotenoid antioxidants form an important part of the human body's anti-oxidant system and are thought to play an important role in disease prevention. Studies have shown an inverse correlation between high dietary intake of carotenoids and risk of certain cancers, heart disease and degenerative diseases. For example, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are present in high concentrations in the human retina, are thought to prevent age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly in the Western world. We have developed various clinical prototype instruments, based on resonance Raman spectroscopy, that are able to measure carotenoid levels directly in the tissue of interest. At present we use the Raman technology to quantify carotenoid levels in the human retina, in skin, and in the oral cavity. We use resonant excitation of the π-conjugated molecules in the visible wavelength range and detect the molecules' carbon-carbon stretch frequencies. The spectral properties of the various carotenoids can be explored to selectively measure in some cases individual carotenoid species linked ot the prevention of cancer, in human skin. The instrumentation involves home-built, compact, high-throughput Raman systems capable of measuring physiological carotenoid concentrations in human subjects rapidly and quantitatively. The instruments have been demonstrated for field use and screening of tissue carotenoid status in large populations. In Epidemiology, the technology holds promise as a novel, noninvasive and objective biomarker of fruit and vegetable uptake.