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Visual impairment and retinal and brain neurodegeneration: A population-based study.

Human brain mapping

Authors: Davide Garzone, Robert P Finger, Matthias M Mauschitz, Alexandra Koch, Martin Reuter, Monique M B Breteler, N Ahmad Aziz

Visual impairment and retinal neurodegeneration are intrinsically connected and both have been associated with cognitive impairment and brain atrophy, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. To investigate whether transneuronal degeneration is implicated, we systematically assessed the relation between visual function and retinal, visual pathway, hippocampal and brain degeneration. We analyzed baseline data from 3316 eligible Rhineland Study participants with visual acuity (VA), optical coherence tomography (OCT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data available. Regional volumes, cortical volume, and fractional anisotropy (FA) were derived from T1-weighted and diffusion-weighted 3 T MRI scans. Statistical analyses were performed using multivariable linear regression and structural equation modeling. VA and ganglion cell layer (GCL) thinning were both associated with global brain atrophy (SD effect size [95% CI] -0.090 [-0.118 to -0.062] and 0.066 [0.053-0.080], respectively), and hippocampal atrophy (-0.029 [-0.055 to -0.003] and 0.114 [0.087-0.141], respectively). The effect of VA on whole brain and hippocampal volume was partly mediated by retinal neurodegeneration. Similarly, the effect of retinal neurodegeneration on brain and hippocampal atrophy was mediated through intermediate visual tracts, accounting for 5.2%-23.9% of the effect. Visual impairment and retinal neurodegeneration were robustly associated with worse brain atrophy, FA, and hippocampal atrophy, partly mediated through disintegration of intermediate visual tracts. Our findings support the use of OCT-derived retinal measures as markers of neurodegeneration, and indicate that both general and transneuronal neurodegeneration along the visual pathway, partly reflecting visual impairment, account for the association between retinal neurodegeneration and brain atrophy.

© 2023 The Authors. Human Brain Mapping published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

PMID: 36852616

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