Longitudinal retinal layer changes in preclinical Alzheimer's disease

Acta Ophthalmol. 2021 Aug;99(5):538-544. doi: 10.1111/aos.14640. Epub 2020 Oct 18.


Purpose: Several studies found reduced retinal thickness on optical coherence tomography (OCT) in Alzheimer's disease (AD), even in preclinical stages, labelling this technique of interest as biomarker. In this study, we examine retinal thickness changes in preclinical AD, as defined by cognitively normal individuals with amyloid-beta (Aβ) on positron emission tomography (PET).

Methods: For this monocentre study, 145 cognitively healthy monozygotic twins aged ≥ 60 were included from the Netherlands Twin Register taking part in the EMIF-AD PreclinAD study. At baseline, participants underwent [18 F] flutemetamol PET that was visually rated for cortical Aβ. Binding potential was calculated as continuous measure for Aβ. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) was performed at baseline and after 22 months to assess changes in total and individual inner retinal layer thickness in the macular region (ETDRS circles) and peripapillary retinal nerve fibre layer thickness. Differences in rate of change between amyloid-beta positive and negative individuals and associations between binding potential and change in retinal thickness were evaluated.

Results: Sixteen participants (11%) were positive for Aβ. Change in retinal thickness did not differ in any region between Aβ+ and Aβ- individuals. A positive association between binding potential and change in inner plexiform layer thickness was observed in the inner macular ring (beta = 1.708, CI = 0.575 to 2.841, p = 0.003).

Conclusion: Aβ+ individuals did not differ in rate of change of any retinal layer compared to controls, but higher binding potential at baseline was associated with less IPL thinning over time. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) as a longitudinal screening tool for preclinical AD seems limited, but IPL changes offer leads for further research.

Keywords: OCT; ocular biomarkers; preclinical Alzheimer’s disease; retina; twins.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Biomarkers / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Retina / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Retinal Diseases / etiology
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence / methods*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Biomarkers