Smoking and alcohol, health-related quality of life and psychiatric comorbidities in Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy mutation carriers: a prospective cohort study

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2021 Mar 11;16(1):127. doi: 10.1186/s13023-021-01724-5.


Background: Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is a rare mitochondrial disorder, characterized by acute or subacute bilateral vision loss, frequently leading to significant chronic disability, mainly in young people. The causal LHON mutations of the mitochondrial DNA have incomplete penetrance, with the highest risk of disease manifestation for male mutation carriers in the second and third decades of life. Here we evaluated smoking, alcohol drinking habits, health-related quality of life (QOL) and psychiatric comorbidities in a cohort of LHON patients and asymptomatic mutation carriers from a tertiary referral centre.

Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of the ongoing Munich LHON prospective cohort study. Participants included all LHON patients and asymptomatic LHON mutation carriers older than 16 years at baseline, who were recruited between February 2014 and June 2015 and consented to participate. General, neurological and ophthalmological investigations were performed, including validated questionnaires on smoking, alcohol drinking habits, depressive symptoms and health-related QOL.

Results: Seventy-one participants were included, 34 LHON patients (82% male) and 37 asymptomatic mutation carriers (19% male). Median age at baseline was 36 years (range 18-75 years). For LHON patients, median age at visual loss onset was 27 years (9 to 72 years). Smoking is more frequent in LHON patients than asymptomatic LHON mutation carriers, and significantly more frequent in both groups than in the general population. Sixty percent of LHON patients, who smoked at disease onset, stopped or significantly reduced smoking after visual loss onset, yet 40% of LHON patients continued to smoke at study baseline. Excessive alcohol consumption is more frequent in male LHON patients than in LHON asymptomatic and more frequent than in the male general population. Further, female asymptomatic LHON mutation carriers are at risk for depression and worse mental QOL scores.

Conclusions: Given the high prevalence of smoking and excessive drinking in LHON mutation carriers, implementing effective measures to reduce these risk factors may have a significant impact in reducing LHON disease conversion risk. The underrecognized prevalence of mental health issues in this population of LHON mutation carriers highlights the need for awareness and more timely diagnosis, which may lead to improved outcomes.

Keywords: Alcohol; Depression; LHON; Leber’s hereditary optic atrophy; Mental health (< 10); Mitochondrial disorder; Quality of life; Smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • Optic Atrophy, Hereditary, Leber* / epidemiology
  • Optic Atrophy, Hereditary, Leber* / genetics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life*
  • Smoking / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • DNA, Mitochondrial