Why the eye could be the window to brain degeneration such as Alzheimer's disease

June 26, 2018, Queen's University Belfast
Credit: Queen's University Belfast

Researchers from Queen's University Belfast have shown for the first time that the eye could be a surrogate for brain degeneration like Alzheimer's disease (AD).

This have recently been published in the Journal of Ophthalmic Research and is the first clinical study showing a potential for peripheral retinal imaging to be used in monitoring AD and potentially other neurodegenerative diseases.

The team, led by Dr. Imre Lengyel, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the School of Medicine Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University have found that by examining the eye we might be able to reflect on what might be taking place in the brain.

The work was carried out alongside health professionals and care providers for AD patients and explored whether there are manifestations of AD in the eye.

Based on laboratory observations the team hypothesized that changes in the peripheral retina could be important to explore the association between the eye and the brain.

Using ultra-wide field imaging technology developed by Optos Plc, the team found that there are indeed several changes that seems to be, especially in the peripheral retina, associated with this debilitating condition.

One of the changes in the eye that the study observed was a higher than normal appearance of drusen, the yellow 'spots' identifiable on retinal images, in people with AD. Drusen are small deposits of fat, proteins and minerals, including calcium and phosphate deposits that form in a layer underneath the retina. These spots are a symptom of ageing and often seen in people over 40. A few of these deposits are harmless, but once they increase in number and size they contribute to the degeneration of the retina.

Dr. Lengyel explains: "These exciting research results suggests that our original hypothesis was right and wide field eye imaging could indeed help monitoring in patients with AD."

Another significant change observed in the study was measured in the peripheral retinal blood circulation in AD. The research team found that people with AD have wider blood vessels close to the optic nerve, but these thin faster than in control subjects towards the retinal periphery. Both of these are likely to slow blood flow and impair nutrient and oxygen flow in the peripheral retina.

Dr. Lengyel continues: "Eye imaging is quick, simple, well tolerated and costs a fraction to that of brain scans so there are tremendous benefits to both the professional and the patient."

While peripheral retinal imaging is not a diagnostic measure for AD, the simple, quick and inexpensive monitoring of change in the eye could serve as a tool for disease progression in the brain.

Professor Craig Ritchie, Professor of the Psychiatry of Ageing at the University of Edinburgh is co-author on the study. He comments: "Changes in the eye are very easy to measure relative to other measures of brain health.

"Our research team, led by Queen's University, was able to identify early markers in people many years before dementia develops. We have opened a window to identify high risk groups who may benefit from specific prevention advice."

To extend these observations, the research team is currently involved in several further dementia related studies. They will be examining and following patients with very early stage AD through the Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study, the world's most in depth study to detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease progression conducted in the UK.

Research in Dr. Lengyel's laboratory is supported by the Medical Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, and Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility as well industrial partners Optos Plc.

Explore further: Eye changes may signal frontotemporal lobe degeneration

More information: Lajos Csincsik et al. Peripheral Retinal Imaging Biomarkers for Alzheimer's Disease: A Pilot Study, Ophthalmic Research (2018). DOI: 10.1159/000487053

Related Stories

Eye changes may signal frontotemporal lobe degeneration

September 8, 2017
Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that is present in tens of thousands of Americans, but is often difficult to diagnose accurately. Now in a study published this week online ahead ...

Microglia protect sensory cells needed for vision after retinal detachment

June 18, 2018
A research team at Massachusetts Eye and Ear has shown that microglia, the primary immune cells of the brain and retina, play a protective role in response to retinal detachment. Retinal detachment and subsequent degeneration ...

Damage in retinal periphery closely matches loss of blood flow in people with diabetes

September 10, 2015
Research from the Joslin Diabetes Center's Beetham Eye Institute demonstrated earlier this year that in people with diabetic retinopathy, the presence of lesions in the periphery of their retina substantially increases the ...

Eyes may be window into future memory loss

February 28, 2018
(HealthDay)—By looking deeply into your eyes, doctors might be able to predict your future risk for dementia and memory loss.

Researchers develop new model for earlier treatments for AMD

February 10, 2017
An international team of researchers from Queen's University Belfast, University College London and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA have developed a cell culture model that could help to develop earlier treatment ...

Drusen as promising biomarkers for progression of macular degeneration

June 7, 2017
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a common disease of the centre of the retina, primarily affecting those aged over 50. The first signs of the disease are so-called drusen, which occur under the retina in the form ...

Recommended for you

An orange a day keeps macular degeneration away: 15-year study

July 12, 2018
A new study has shown that people who regularly eat oranges are less likely to develop macular degeneration than people who do not eat oranges.

Injectable electronics offer powerful new tool in understanding how retinal cells work

June 28, 2018
Charles Lieber and his group are rewriting the rules of how scientists study retinal cells, and they're doing it with a single injection.

Why the eye could be the window to brain degeneration such as Alzheimer's disease

June 26, 2018
Researchers from Queen's University Belfast have shown for the first time that the eye could be a surrogate for brain degeneration like Alzheimer's disease (AD).

161 genetic factors for myopia identified

June 15, 2018
The international Consortium for Refractive Error and Myopia (CREAM) recently published the largest-ever genetic study of myopia in Nature Genetics. Researchers from the Gutenberg Health Study at the Medical Center of Johannes ...

Normal eye dominance is not necessary for restoring visual acuity in amblyopia

June 7, 2018
Amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye," is a visual disorder common in children. The symptoms often are low acuity in the affected or "lazy" eye and impaired depth perception. Researchers have long believed that the impaired ...

Education linked to higher risk of short-sightedness

June 6, 2018
Spending more years in full time education is associated with a greater risk of developing short-sightedness (myopia), finds a study published by The BMJ today.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.