Retinal morphology of patients with achromatopsia during early childhood: implications for gene therapy

JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014 Jul;132(7):823-31. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2014.685.


Importance: While older children and adults with achromatopsia have been studied, less is known of young children with achromatopsia.

Objectives: To characterize the macular and foveal architecture of patients with achromatopsia during early childhood with handheld spectral-domain optical coherence tomographic imaging and to make phenotype-genotype correlations.

Design, setting, and participants: Comparative case series of 9 patients with achromatopsia and 9 age-matched control participants at a tertiary ophthalmology referral center.

Main outcomes and measures: Patients underwent complete ocular examination, full-field electroretinography, handheld spectral-domain optical coherence tomographic imaging, and screening for genetic mutations.

Results: The mean (SD) age of the patients with achromatopsia was 4.2 (2.4) years, and the mean (SD) age of the control participants was 4.0 (2.1) years. Cone-driven responses to photopic single-flash or 30-Hz stimuli were nonrecordable in 7 patients and severely attenuated in 2. Rod-driven responses to dim scotopic single-flash stimuli were normal in 7 patients and mildly subnormal in 2. Six patients (67%) had foveal ellipsoid zone disruption, of which 1 had a hyporeflective zone. Four patients (44%) had foveal hypoplasia. The average total retinal thicknesses of the macula and fovea in the patients with achromatopsia were 14% and 17% thinner than in the control participants (P < .001 and P = .001), which was mostly due to the outer retina that was 18% and 26% thinner than in control participants (both P < .001), respectively. Genetic testing revealed a common homozygous mutation in CNGB3 in 5 patients with complete achromatopsia and heterozygous mutations in CNGA3 in 2 patients with incomplete achromatopsia. The youngest and worst-affected patient harbored compound heterozygous mutations in CNGB3 and a single mutation in CNGA3.

Conclusions and relevance: In early childhood, there is a spectrum of foveal pathology that is milder than reported in older individuals with achromatopsia, which suggests the need for early therapeutic intervention. Neither age alone nor genotype alone predicts the degree of photoreceptor loss or preservation. Thus, in anticipation of future gene therapy trials in humans, we propose that handheld spectral-domain optical coherence tomography is an important tool for the early assessment and stratification of macular architecture in young children with achromatopsia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Color Vision Defects / diagnosis*
  • Color Vision Defects / genetics
  • Color Vision Defects / therapy
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / genetics
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Dark Adaptation
  • Electroretinography
  • Female
  • Frameshift Mutation
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / diagnosis
  • Photophobia / diagnosis
  • Refractive Errors / diagnosis
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Retinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Retinal Diseases / genetics
  • Retinal Diseases / therapy
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence
  • Visual Acuity / physiology


  • CNGA3 protein, human
  • CNGB3 protein, human
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels