Dark Endothelial Spots After Descemet Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty May Appear as Recurrent Fuchs Dystrophy or Herald Graft Failure or Rejection

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Purpose:To evaluate the clinical significance of dark spots in the donor endothelial cell layer as observed with specular microscopy, in patients who underwent Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) for Fuchs endothelial dystrophy (FED).Methods:Specular microscopy images of 83 consecutive eyes up to 7 years after DMEK were retrospectively reviewed in a masked fashion for the presence of dark spots and morphologic changes in the endothelial cell layer and processed for endothelial cell density (ECD) measurements.Results:A normal endothelial cell layer was found in 52/83 eyes (62.7%) (group 0). In the remaining 31/83 eyes, various dark discolorations with or without altered endothelial cell morphology were categorized into 4 groups. Dark spots were classified as artifacts in 10/83 (12.0%) eyes (group I) and as “superimposed” dots in 10/83 (12.0%) eyes (group II), that is, optical irregularities slightly anterior to a healthy endothelial cell layer. In 11/83 (13.3%) eyes, endothelial stress was characterized by dark grayish discolorations and/or nuclear activation (group III). Most of the latter eyes also had a significant ECD decrease; 3 of these eyes later developed secondary graft failure, of which one was preceded by allograft rejection. None of the eyes showed recurrent guttae typical for FED (group IV).Conclusions:Dark endothelial spots after DMEK for FED may not represent a recurrent disease, but tissue irregularities just anterior to the graft. However, if associated with changes in endothelial cell morphology, nuclear activation and/or ECD decrease, dark discolorations may reflect “cellular stress” heralding secondary graft failure or (subclinical) allograft rejection.

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