Widespread White Matter Alterations in Patients With Visual Snow Syndrome

Front Neurol. 2021 Sep 21;12:723805. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2021.723805. eCollection 2021.


Background: Visual snow is considered a disorder of central visual processing resulting in a perturbed perception of constant binocular flickering or pixilation of the whole visual field. The underlying neurophysiological and structural alterations remain elusive. Methods: In this study, we included patients (final n = 14, five dropouts; five females, mean age: 32 years) with visual snow syndrome (VSS) and age- and sex-matched controls (final n = 20, 6 dropouts, 13 females, mean age: 28.2 years). We applied diffusion tensor imaging to examine possible white matter (WM) alterations in patients with VSS. Results: The patient group demonstrated higher (p-corrected < 0.05, adjusted for age and sex) fractional anisotropy (FA) and lower mean diffusivity (MD) and radial diffusivity (RD) compared to controls. These changes were seen in the prefrontal WM (including the inferior fronto-occipital fascicle), temporal and occipital WM, superior and middle longitudinal fascicle, and sagittal stratum. When additionally corrected for migraine or tinnitus-dominant comorbidities in VSS-similar group differences were seen for FA and RD, but less pronounced. Conclusions: Our results indicate that patients with VSS present WM alterations in parts of the visual cortex and outside the visual cortex. As parts of the inferior fronto-occipital fascicle and sagittal stratum are associated with visual processing and visual conceptualisation, our results suggest that the WM alterations in these regions may indicate atypical visual processing in patients with VSS. Yet, the frequent presence of migraine and other comorbidities such as tinnitus in VSS makes it difficult to attribute WM disruptions solely to VSS.

Keywords: diffusion-weighted imaging; inferior fronto-occipital fascicle; neuro-ophthalmology; visual snow; white matter.