We have developed a CCD-camera-based nonmydriatic instrument that detects fluorescence from retinal lipofuscin chromophores (“autofluorescence”) as a means to indirectly quantify and spatially image the distribution of macular pigment (MP). The lipofuscin fluorescence intensity is reduced at all retinal locations containing MP, since MP has a competing absorption in the blue–green wavelength region. Projecting a large diameter, excitation spot onto the retina, centered on the fovea, but extending into the macular periphery, and comparing lipofuscin fluorescence intensities outside and inside the foveal area, it is possible to spatially map out the distribution of MP. Spectrally selective detection of the lipofuscin fluorescence reveals an important wavelength dependence of the obtainable image contrast and deduced MP optical density levels, showing that it is important to block out interfering fluorescence contributions in the detection setup originating from ocular media such as the lens. Measuring 70 healthy human volunteer subjects with no ocular pathologies, we find widely varying spatial extent of MP, distinctly differing distribution patterns of MP, and strongly differing absolute MP levels among individuals. Our population study suggests that MP imaging based on lipofuscin fluorescence is useful as a relatively simple, objective, and quantitative noninvasive optical technique suitable to rapidly screen MP levels and distributions in healthy humans with undilated pupils.
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