Retinal and Visual Pathways Involvement in Carriers of Friedreich's Ataxia

In the visual system, the typical manifestations of FRDA are ocular motility abnormality, optic neuropathy, and retinopathy. Despite the evidence of ophthalmological impairment in FRDA patients, there is a lack of information about the morpho-functional condition of the retina and of the optic pathways in healthy heterozygous carriers of Friedreich's ataxia (C-FRDA). Ten C-FRDA subjects (providing 20 eyes) and thirty-five Controls (providing 70 eyes) underwent a complete neurological and ophthalmological examination comprehensive of functional (full-field Electroretinogram (ffERG), multifocal Electroretinogram (mfERG), Visual Evoked Potential (VEP), and Pattern Reversal Electroretinogram (PERG)) and morphological assessments (Optical Coherence Tomography, OCT) of the retina, macula, retinal ganglion cells, and visual pathways. The groups' data were compared using a two-sample t-test. Pearson's test was used to investigate the morpho-functional correlations. Statistically significant differences (p < 0.01) between C-FRDA and Control eyes for the values of the following parameters were found: ffERG b-wave amplitude, mfERG Response Amplitude Densities, PERG P50 implicit time and P50-N95 amplitude, VEP P100 implicit time, Retinal Nerve Fiber Layer (RNFL) Overall, and Nasal thickness. The values of the OCT macular volume were not statistically different (p > 0.01) between the two Groups. Therefore, these data suggest that, in C-FRDA, a dysfunction of retinal elements without morphological macular impairment may occur. In addition, a morphological impairment of RNFL associated with an abnormal neural conduction along the visual pathways can be also detected.

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