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Maka Malania, Julia Konrad, Herbert Jägle, John S. Werner, Mark W. Greenlee; Compromised Integrity of Central Visual Pathways in Patients With Macular Degeneration. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2017;58(7):2939-2947. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.16-21191.
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Macular degeneration (MD) affects the central retina and leads to gradual loss of foveal vision. Although, photoreceptors are primarily affected in MD, the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) and central visual pathways may also be altered subsequent to photoreceptor degeneration. Here we investigate whether retinal damage caused by MD alters microstructural properties of visual pathways using diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging.
Six MD patients and six healthy control subjects participated in the study. Retinal images were obtained by spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT). Diffusion tensor images (DTI) and high-resolution T1-weighted structural images were collected for each subject. We used diffusion-based tensor modeling and probabilistic fiber tractography to identify the optic tract (OT) and optic radiations (OR), as well as nonvisual pathways (corticospinal tract and anterior fibers of corpus callosum). Fractional anisotropy (FA) and axial and radial diffusivity values (AD, RD) were calculated along the nonvisual and visual pathways.
Measurement of RNFL thickness reveals that the temporal circumpapillary retinal nerve fiber layer was significantly thinner in eyes with macular degeneration than normal. While we did not find significant differences in diffusion properties in nonvisual pathways, patients showed significant changes in diffusion scalars (FA, RD, and AD) both in OT and OR.
The results indicate that the RNFL and the white matter of the visual pathways are significantly altered in MD patients. Damage to the photoreceptors in MD leads to atrophy of the ganglion cell axons and to corresponding changes in microstructural properties of central visual pathways.
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