Visualization of micro-neuromas by using in vivo confocal microscopy: An objective biomarker for the diagnosis of neuropathic corneal pain?. Ocul Surf 2020;Abstract.
PURPOSE: The diagnosis of neuropathic corneal pain (NCP) is challenging, as it is often difficult to differentiate from conventional dry eye disease (DED). In addition to eye pain, NCP can present with similar signs and symptoms of DED. The purpose of this study is to find an objective diagnostic sign to identify patients with NCP, using in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM). METHODS: This was a comparative, retrospective, case-control study. Patients with clinical diagnosis of NCP (n = 25), DED (n = 30), and age and sex-matched healthy controls (n = 16), who underwent corneal imaging with IVCM (HRT3/RCM) were included. Central corneal IVCM scans were analyzed by 2 masked observers for nerve density and number, presence of micro-neuromas (terminal enlargements of subbasal corneal nerve) and/or nerve beading (bead-like formation along the nerves), and dendritiform cell (DC) density. RESULTS: There was a decrease in total nerve density in both NCP (14.14 ± 1.03 mm/mm) and DED patients (12.86 ± 1.04 mm/mm), as compared to normal controls (23.90 ± 0.92 mm/mm; p < 0.001). However, total nerve density was not statistically different between NCP and DED patients (p = 0.63). Presence of nerve beading was not significantly different between patients and normal controls (p = 0.15). Interestingly, micro-neuromas were observed in all patients with NCP, while they were not present in any of the patients with DED (sensitivity and specificity of 100%). DC density was increased significantly in both NCP (71.89 ± 16.91 cells/mm) and DED patients (111.5 ± 23.86 cells/mm), as compared to normal controls (24.81 ± 4.48 cells/mm (Colloca et al., 2017) ; p < 0.05). However, there was no significant difference in DC density between DED and NCP patients (p = 0.31). CONCLUSION: IVCM may be used as an adjunct diagnostic tool for the diagnosis of NCP in the presence of neuropathic symptoms. Micro-neuromas may serve as a sensitive and specific biomarker for the diagnosis of NCP.