The aim of this study was to analyze photoreceptor alterations occurring in eyes with intermediate age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and to investigate their associations with choriocapillaris (CC) flow. In this retrospective case–control study, we collected data from 35 eyes with intermediate AMD from 35 patients who had swept source optical coherence tomography structural and angiography imaging obtained. A control group of 35 eyes from 35 healthy subjects was included for comparison. Our main outcome measure for comparison between groups was the normalized reflectivity of en face image segmented at the ellipsoid zone (EZ) level, which was calculated to quantify the photoreceptor damage. OCTA metrics to quantify CC flow signal were also computed. These metrics were measured in a circle centered on the fovea and with a diameter of 5 mm. In intermediate AMD eyes, the macular area occupied by drusen was identified. Therefore, the EZ reflectivity and CC flow signal were separately measured in regions without drusen (“drusen-free” region). Measurements were generated using previously published algorithms. Mean ± SD age was 74.1 ± 6.8 years in the intermediate AMD group and 72.1 ± 6.0 years in the control group (p = 0.206). The normalized EZ reflectivity was 0.76 ± 0.10 in the intermediate AMD group and 0.85 ± 0.08 in the control group (p <.0001). In the “drusen-free” region, the normalized EZ reflectivity was 0.77 ± 0.10 (p <.0001 vs. healthy controls) and was positively correlated with the CC flow signal density (ρ = − 0.340 and p = 0.020). In conclusion, eyes with intermediate AMD exhibit a diffuse reduced EZ normalized reflectivity, and this reduction is correlated with CC flow signal in the regions without drusen. This study supports the concept of the damage of the unit comprised of photoreceptor, CC, and intervening tissues as an early event in AMD.
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