Purpose: Geographic atrophy (GA) is a clinical phenotype of late age-related macular degeneration (AMD) with no current treatment available. In this study, we investigated markers of chronic inflammation in plasma of patients with GA and how these relate to progression rate.
Methods: We prospectively included 42 patients with GA, 41 patients with neovascular AMD, and 27 healthy controls. We quantified levels of interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, IL-8, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor 2, and C-reactive protein (CRP). We adapted an inflammation summary score to cluster conceptually related markers of chronic inflammation. Enlargement rate of the atrophic lesion was measured from fundus autofluorescence images performed at baseline and after 1 year.
Results: Patients with GA showed an increase in proinflammatory markers of IL-6 (P = 0.009), TNF receptor 2 (P = 0.013), and CRP (P = 0.017) compared to healthy controls. We found that IL-8 levels were markedly higher in patients with GA when compared to patients with neovascular AMD (P = 0.013). The inflammation summary score was high in patients with neovascular AMD (P = 0.024), but even higher in patients with GA (<0.001), when compared to healthy controls. GA enlargement was measured in 36 patients, who completed follow-up. Plasma levels of IL-6 had a moderate but significant correlation with GA enlargement rate (R2 = 0.23, P = 0.0035).
Conclusions: Markers of chronic inflammation strongly associates with presence of GA secondary to AMD. Plasma IL-6 possesses predictive ability of progression and constitutes the first known plasma biomarker of disease activity in GA. These findings shed light into a poorly understood clinical phenotype of AMD and highlights the important role of chronic inflammation in GA.