Background: The aim of this study was to evaluate the focal electroretinogram (FERG), an objective indicator of outer retinal function, in nonexudative age-related macular degeneration (NE-AMD), and to compare FERG results with morphological lesions assessed by stereoscopic fundus photographs and fluorescein angiograms.
Methods: Twenty-five patients (25 eyes) with bilateral NE-AMD (visual acuity of the study eyes > or = 0.4) as well as 10 age- and sex-matched control subjects (10 eyes) were evaluated. FERGs were recorded from the macular region (9 degrees) in response to sinusoidal stimuli flickered at 32 Hz. Amplitude and phase angle of the Fourier-analyzed FERG fundamental component were measured. Fundus lesions were graded from color slides according to the Wisconsin age-related maculopathy grading system . Fluorescein angiograms were evaluated by an image analysis technique to compute the area with pathological hyperfluorescence (associated with drusen and/or retinal pigment epithelial atrophy) within the macular (approximately 9 degrees x 9 degrees) region.
Results: Compared to control eyes, NE-AMD eyes had a reduction in the mean FERG amplitude (57% loss, P<0.001) with no phase changes. Amplitudes of individual affected eyes were negatively correlated with either the Wisconsin grading score (r = -0.63, P < 0.001) or the percentage area of pathological hyperfluorescence (r = -0.70, P<0.01). Eyes with minimal NE-AMD lesions (Wisconsin score < or = 6) and normal acuity had a lower mean amplitude (47% loss, P < 0.05) than that of control eyes.
Conclusions: The results indicate that, in NE-AMD, the FERG is altered in parallel with the extent and severity of fundus lesions. However, a functional impairment of outer macular layers, which is detected by FERG losses, could precede morphological changes typical of more advanced disease.