A retinal sensitivity abnormality has been hypothesized in seasonal affective disorder (SAD). To explore this hypothesis, the electroretinogram (ERG) was used to assess retinal sensitivity at the level of the rod photoreceptor system. We examined 27 depressed patients who met DSM-III-R criteria for major depression, recurrent, with a seasonal (winter) pattern and 23 normal control subjects who were age-paired and sex-matched as much as possible with the SAD patients. ERG testing was performed in dark-adapted, dilated eyes in winter between 10:00 and 15:00 h. Retinal sensitivity was based on the light stimulus intensity necessary to reach a 50-microV amplitude threshold. We found that retinal sensitivity was significantly lower (0.21 log units) in SAD patients compared with normal control subjects and that 55% of the patients had a retinal sensitivity value one standard deviation lower than the mean value of the control subjects. These results are consistent with a retinal hyposensitivity hypothesis for SAD, but the explanation for lower rod photoreceptor sensitivity in SAD is not known. We hypothesize that brain neurotransmitter dysregulation may be at the origin of both the mood disorder and retinal sensitivity change.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.