Retinal vascular fractal dimension, childhood IQ, and cognitive ability in old age: the Lothian Birth Cohort Study 1936

PLoS One. 2015 Mar 27;10(3):e0121119. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121119. eCollection 2015.


Purpose: Cerebral microvascular disease is associated with dementia. Differences in the topography of the retinal vascular network may be a marker for cerebrovascular disease. The association between cerebral microvascular state and non-pathological cognitive ageing is less clear, particularly because studies are rarely able to adjust for pre-morbid cognitive ability level. We measured retinal vascular fractal dimension (Df) as a potential marker of cerebral microvascular disease. We examined the extent to which it contributes to differences in non-pathological cognitive ability in old age, after adjusting for childhood mental ability.

Methods: Participants from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 Study (LBC1936) had cognitive ability assessments and retinal photographs taken of both eyes aged around 73 years (n = 648). IQ scores were available from childhood. Retinal vascular Df was calculated with monofractal and multifractal analysis, performed on custom-written software. Multiple regression models were applied to determine associations between retinal vascular Df and general cognitive ability (g), processing speed, and memory.

Results: Only three out of 24 comparisons (two eyes × four Df parameters × three cognitive measures) were found to be significant. This is little more than would be expected by chance. No single association was verified by an equivalent association in the contralateral eye.

Conclusions: The results show little evidence that fractal measures of retinal vascular differences are associated with non-pathological cognitive ageing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / diagnosis
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fractals
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Retinal Vessels / anatomy & histology*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology