Selective Retinal Ganglion Cell Loss in Familial Dysautonomia

J Neurol. 2014 Apr;261(4):702-9. doi: 10.1007/s00415-014-7258-2. Epub 2014 Feb 2.


To define the retinal phenotype of subjects with familial dysautonomia (FD). A cross-sectional study was carried out in 90 subjects divided in three groups of 30 each (FD subjects, asymptomatic carriers and controls). The study was developed at the Dysautonomia Center, New York University Medical Center. All subjects underwent spectral domain optical coherence tomography (OCT) and full neuro-ophthalmic examinations. In a subset of affected subjects, visual evoked potentials and microperimetry were also obtained. We compared the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) thickness from OCT between the three groups. OCT showed loss of the RNFL in all FD subjects predominantly in the maculopapillary region (63 % temporally, p < 0.0001; and 21 % nasally, p < 0.005). RNFL loss was greatest in older FD subjects and was associated with decreased visual acuity and color vision, central visual field defects, temporal optic nerve pallor, and delayed visual evoked potentials. Asymptomatic carriers of the FD gene mutation all had thinner RNFL (12 % globally, p < 0.005). OCT and clinical neuro-ophthalmological findings suggest that maculopapillary ganglion cells are primarily affected in FD subjects, leading to a specific optic nerve damage that closely resembles mitochondrial optic neuropathies. This raises the possibility that reduced IKAP levels may affect mitochondrial proteins and their function in the nervous system, particularly in the retina.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dysautonomia, Familial / pathology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pupil
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology*
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence
  • Vision Tests
  • Young Adult