Flecks in Recessive Stargardt Disease: Short-Wavelength Autofluorescence, Near-Infrared Autofluorescence, and Optical Coherence Tomography

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2015 Jul;56(8):5029-39. doi: 10.1167/iovs.15-16763.


Purpose: We evaluated the incongruous observation whereby flecks in recessive Stargardt disease (STGD1) can exhibit increased short-wavelength autofluorescence (SW-AF) that originates from retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) lipofuscin, while near-infrared AF (NIR-AF), emitted primarily from RPE melanin, is usually reduced or absent at fleck positions.

Methods: Flecks in SW- and NIR-AF images and spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) scans were studied in 19 STGD1 patients carrying disease-causing ABCA4 mutations. Fleck spatial distribution and progression were recorded in serial AF images.

Results: Flecks observed in SW-AF images typically colocalized with darkened foci in NIR-AF images; the NIR-AF profiles were larger. The decreased NIR-AF signal from flecks preceded apparent changes in SW-AF. Spatiotemporal changes in fleck distribution usually progressed centrifugally, but in one case centripetal expansion was observed. Flecks in SW-AF images corresponded to hyperreflective deposits that progressively traversed photoreceptor-attributable bands in SD-OCT images. Outer nuclear layer (ONL) thickness negatively correlated with expansion of flecks from outer to inner retina.

Conclusions: In the healthy retina, RPE lipofuscin fluorophores form in photoreceptor cells but are transferred to RPE; thus the SW-AF signal from photoreceptor cells is negligible. In STGD1, NIR-AF imaging reveals that flecks are predominantly hypofluorescent and larger and that NIR-AF darkening occurs prior to heightened SW-AF signal. These observations indicate that RPE cells associated with flecks in STGD1 are considerably changed or lost. Spectral-domain OCT findings are indicative of ongoing photoreceptor cell degeneration. The bright SW-AF signal of flecks likely originates from augmented lipofuscin formation in degenerating photoreceptor cells impaired by the failure of RPE.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Electroretinography
  • Female
  • Fluorescein Angiography / methods*
  • Fundus Oculi
  • Humans
  • Macular Degeneration / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stargardt Disease
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence / methods*
  • Young Adult