Cortical atrophy predicts visual performance in long-term central retinal disease; GCL, pRNFL and cortical thickness are key biomarkers

Rachel L W Hanson, Heidi Baseler, Archana Airody, Antony Morland, Richard Peter Gale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The aim of this study was to assess both retinal and cortical structure in a cohort of patients with long-term acquired central retinal disease in order to identify potential disease biomarkers and to explore the relationship between the anterior and posterior visual pathways.

Methods: Fourteen participants diagnosed with long-term central retinal disease underwent structural assessments of the retina using spectral-domain optical coherence tomography, including macular ganglion cell layer (GCL) and peripapillary retinal nerve fiber layer (pRNFL) thickness. Structural magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure visual cortex, including cortical volume of the entire occipital lobe and cortical thickness of the occipital pole and calcarine sulcus, representing the central and peripheral retina, respectively.

Results: Mean thickness was significantly reduced in both the macular GCL and the inferior temporal pRNFL across patients. Cortical thickness was significantly reduced in both the occipital pole and calcarine sulcus, representing the central and peripheral retina, respectively. Disease duration significantly correlated with GCL thickness with a large effect size, whereas a medium effect size suggests the possibility that cortical thickness in the occipital pole may correlate with visual acuity.

Conclusions: Long-term central retinal disease is associated with significant structural changes to both the retina and the brain. Exploratory analysis suggests that monitoring GCL thickness may be a sensitive biomarker of disease progression and reductions in visual cortical thickness may be associated with reduced visual acuity. Although this study is limited by its heterogeneous population, larger cohort studies would be needed to better establish some of the relationships detected between disease dependent structural properties of the anterior and posterior visual pathway given the effect sizes reported in our exploratory analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35
Number of pages10
JournalInvestigative ophthalmology & visual science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2022 The Authors


  • Atrophy/pathology
  • Biomarkers
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases/pathology
  • Retina/pathology
  • Retinal Diseases/pathology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells/pathology

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