Background and objectives: In Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), visual hallucinations (VH) are experienced by people with sight loss due to eye disease or lesional damage to early visual pathways. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to investigate structural brain changes using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in CBS.
Methods: Sixteen CBS patients, 17 with eye disease but no VH, and 19 normally sighted people took part. Participants were imaged on a 3T scanner, with 1 mm resolution T1 weighted structural imaging, and diffusion tensor imaging with 64 diffusion directions.
Results: The three groups were well matched for age, sex and cognitive scores (MMSE). The two eye disease groups were matched on visual acuity. Compared to the sighted controls, we found reduced grey matter in the occipital cortex in both eye disease groups. We also found reductions of fractional anisotropy and increased diffusivity in widespread areas, including occipital tracts, the corpus callosum, and the anterior thalamic radiation. We did not find any significant differences between the eye disease participants with VH versus without VH, but did observe a negative association between hippocampal volume and VH severity in the CBS group.
Discussion: Our findings suggest that although there are cortical and subcortical effects associated with sight loss, structural changes do not explain the occurrence of VHs. CBS may relate instead to connectivity or excitability changes in brain networks linked to vision.
Keywords: Charles Bonnet Syndrome; Eye disease; MRI; Visual hallucinations.
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