Although amblyopia typically manifests itself as a monocular condition, its origin has long been linked to unbalanced neural signals from the two eyes during early postnatal development, a view confirmed by studies conducted on animal models in the last 50 years. Despite recognition of its binocular origin, treatment of amblyopia continues to be dominated by a period of patching of the non-amblyopic eye that necessarily hinders binocular co-operation. This review summarizes evidence from three lines of investigation conducted on an animal model of deprivation amblyopia to support the thesis that treatment of amblyopia should instead focus upon procedures that promote and enhance binocular co-operation. First, experiments with mixed daily visual experience in which episodes of abnormal visual input were pitted against normal binocular exposure revealed that short exposures of the latter offset much longer periods of abnormal input to allow normal development of visual acuity in both eyes. Second, experiments on the use of part-time patching revealed that purposeful introduction of episodes of binocular vision each day could be very beneficial. Periods of binocular exposure that represented 30-50% of the daily visual exposure included with daily occlusion of the non-amblyopic could allow recovery of normal vision in the amblyopic eye. Third, very recent experiments demonstrate that a short 10 day period of total darkness can promote very fast and complete recovery of visual acuity in the amblyopic eye of kittens and may represent an example of a class of artificial environments that have similar beneficial effects. Finally, an approach is described to allow timing of events in kitten and human visual system development to be scaled to optimize the ages for therapeutic interventions.
Keywords: amblyopia; critical period; stereopsis; visual acuity.
© 2014 The Authors Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics © 2014 The College of Optometrists.