Objective: To study the association of retinal disease and the syndrome of maternally inherited diabetes and deafness caused by an A to G mutation in the tRNA leucine gene at base pair 3243 (A3243G) of the mitochondrial genome.
Design: Observational study of a genetically defined subject group.
Participants: Thirteen subjects with the mitochondrial DNA A3243G mutation from seven different pedigrees with maternally inherited diabetes and deafness.
Intervention: Assessment of visual symptoms and visual acuity, dilated indirect ophthalmoscopy, retinal photography, and retinal electrophysiology.
Main outcome measures: Loss of vision, funduscopic evidence of pigmentary retinal disease or diabetic retinopathy, and electrophysiologic evidence of defective functioning of the retinal pigment epithelium/photoreceptor complex.
Results: Funduscopic examination revealed abnormalities of retinal pigmentation in ten subjects (77%). Defects included speckled and patchy hyperpigmentation at the posterior pole of the fundus, particularly in the macular area, and varying degrees of loss of retinal pigmentation. Three subjects (23%) had visual symptoms, which included night blindness, visual loss, and photophobia. Electrophysiologic studies revealed impaired electro-oculogram responses in four of nine subjects with defects of retinal pigmentation (44%), two of whom also had much reduced scotopic and, to a lesser extent, flicker electroretinogram b wave potentials. Two subjects had diabetic retinopathy, including one with retinal depigmentation and impaired electro-oculogram activity. Both subjects with diabetic retinopathy had unilateral reduced electroretinogram responses, especially oscillatory potentials.
Conclusions: Abnormalities of retinal pigmentation are common in subjects with maternally inherited diabetes and deafness caused by the mitochondrial DNA A3243G mutation. Visual symptoms, in particular loss of visual acuity, appear to be infrequent. The combination of deficits in the electro-oculogram and scotopic and flicker electroretinograms suggests that the retinal dystrophy includes defective functioning of retinal pigment epithelial cells and of both rod and cone photoreceptors. The pigmentary retinopathy does not prevent diabetic retinopathy; a single subject had funduscopic and electrophysiologic evidence of both diseases. Current evidence suggests that the mitochondrial DNA A3243G mutation accounts for 0.5% to 2.8% of diabetes. Most ophthalmic and diabetic clinics are therefore likely to contain such patients, who may benefit from identification of the genetic defect causing their disease and from genetic counseling.