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

Scientists combine technologies to view the retina in unprecedented detail

November 14, 2018
By combining two imaging modalities—adaptive optics and angiography—investigators at the National Eye Institute (NEI) can see live neurons, epithelial cells, and blood vessels deep in the eye's light-sensing retina. Resolving ...

Eyepatch with dissolvable needles used to treat eye disease

November 12, 2018
A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in Singapore has developed an eyepatch with dissolvable needles for use in treating eye diseases. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the ...

Calcifications in the eye increase risk for progression to advanced AMD by more than six times

November 8, 2018
Calcified nodules in the retina are associated with progression to late stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Experts from Queen's University Belfast, working in partnership with the University of Alabama of Birmingham ...

Traditional glaucoma test can miss severity of disease

November 8, 2018
The most common tests for glaucoma can underestimate the severity of the condition by not detecting the presence of central vision loss, according to a new Columbia University study.

New contact lens to treat eye injuries

November 5, 2018
A new therapeutic contact lens that acts as a bandage for eye surface injuries being developed by QUT researchers could soon fast track the healing of previously difficult to treat corneal wounds.

New study offers hope for patients suffering from a rare form of blindness

November 1, 2018
A new form of therapy may halt or even reverse a form of progressive vision loss that, until now, has inevitably led to blindness. This hyper-targeted approach offers hope to individuals living with spinocerebellar ataxia ...

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.