Retinal changes may be early sign of dementia

Oct 16, 2014

There is a correlation between functional cell loss in the retina and signs of dementia in people who have a genetic risk for frontotemporal dementia (FTD), according to researchers from the US.

There is a correlation between functional cell loss in the retina and signs of dementia in people who have a genetic risk for frontotemporal dementia (FTD), according to researchers from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), Alabama, USA, Gladstone Institutes, and the University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.

The researchers found that changes in the retina occur much earlier than dementia-related changes appear in an individual's behaviour. Their findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Using an electroretinogram, the researchers compared ganglion cell activity in healthy subjects with subjects known to have frontotemporal dementia, noting a significant decrease in cell activity in the retina of subjects with dementia.

Li Gan, PhD, lead investigator at Gladstone Institutes said, "Retinal degeneration was detectable in mutation carriers prior to the onset of cognitive symptoms, establishing retinal thinning as one of the earliest observable signs of familial FTD. This means that retinal thinning could be an easily measured outcome for clinical trials."

"The results of this study show that we can use the thinning of retinal cells as a marker for this type of dementia," added Dr Eric Robertson, PhD, associate professor at UAB, Department of Vision Sciences. "Further studies may help determine whether the changes in the retina can also be utilized as a marker of disease progression."

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