The aim of the study was to evaluate the vitreous levels of free insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). For this, a total of 36 diabetic patients with PDR (group A) and 28 non-diabetic patients (group B) in whom a vitrectomy was performed were compared. Both groups were matched by age, sex and serum-free IGF-1. In a subgroup of diabetic patients (n = 21) and non-diabetic patients (n = 13), vitreous and serum total IGF-1, IGF-binding protein 1 (IGFBP-1) and IGFBP-3 were also determined. Serum and vitreous levels of free IGF-1, total IGF-1, IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-3 were measured by immunological methods. Vitreal proteins were assessed by a turbidimetric method and adjusted for vitreous haemoglobin. Vitreous levels of free IGF-1 were elevated in group A (median, 0.16ng/ml; range 0.06–0.57ng/ml) in comparison with group B (median, 0.12ng/ml; range 0.06–0.22ng/ml; P<0.001); however, after adjusting for vitreal proteins, free IGF-1 levels were significantly lower in group A in comparison with group B [0.05ng/mg (0.01–0.45ng/mg) versus 0.15ng/mg (0.07–0.66ng/mg); P<0.001]. The relatively lower free IGF-1 level observed in group A could not be attributed to differences in the distribution of intravitreous IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-3 in relation to total IGF-1. Notably, the contribution of free IGF-1 to total IGF-1 in vitreous fluid was 10% in group A and 42% in group B; these percentages largely exceed that obtained in serum (<1%). Our results suggest that although there is an enhancement of intravitreous free IGF-1 in diabetic patients due to serum diffusion, a deficit in its intraocular production also exists. In addition, these findings support the concept that intraocular-produced free IGF-1 plays a relevant role in retinal homoeostasis.

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