Ocular abnormalities occur frequently in Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), although visual symptoms are not always reported. The authors evaluated a cohort of patients with FRDA to characterize the clinical phenotype and optic nerve findings as detected with optical coherence tomography (OCT). A total of 48 patients from 42 unrelated families were recruited. Mean age at onset was 13.8 years (range 4-40), mean disease duration 19.5 years (range 5-43), mean disease severity as quantified with the Scale for the Assessment and Rating of Ataxia 22/40 (range 4.5-38). All patients displayed variable ataxia and two-thirds had ocular abnormalities. Statistically significant thinning of average retinal nerve fibre layer (RNFL) and thinning in all but the temporal quadrant compared to controls was demonstrated on OCT. Significant RNFL and macular thinning was documented over time in 20 individuals. Disease severity and visual acuity were correlated with RNFL and macular thickness, but no association was found with disease duration. Our results highlight that FDRA is associated with subclinical optic neuropathy. This is the largest longitudinal study of OCT findings in FRDA to date, demonstrating progressive RNFL thickness decline, suggesting that RNFL thickness as measured by OCT has the potential to become a quantifiable biomarker for the evaluation of disease progression in FRDA.

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