Retinal photoreceptor layer thickness has disease specificity and distinguishes predicted FTLD-Tau from biomarker-determined Alzheimer's disease

Neurobiol Aging. 2023 May:125:74-82. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2023.01.015. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


While Alzheimer's disease (AD) is associated with inner retina thinning (retinal nerve fiber layer and ganglion cell layer), we have observed photoreceptor outer nuclear layer (ONL) thinning in patients with frontotemporal lobar degeneration tauopathy (FTLD-Tau) compared to normal controls. We hypothesized that ONL thinning may distinguish FTLD-Tau from patients with biomarker evidence of AD neuropathologic change (ADNC) and will correlate with FTLD-Tau disease severity. Predicted FTLD-Tau (pFTLD-Tau; n = 21; 33 eyes) and predicted ADNC (pADNC; n = 24; 46 eyes) patients were consecutively enrolled, underwent optical coherence tomography macula imaging, and disease was categorized (pFTLD-Tau vs. pADNC) with cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers, genetic testing, and autopsy data when available. Adjusting for age, sex, and race, pFTLD-Tau patients had a thinner ONL compared to pADNC, while retinal nerve fiber layer and ganglion cell layer were not significantly different. Reduced ONL thickness correlated with worse performance on Folstein Mini-Mental State Examination and clinical dementia rating plus frontotemporal dementia sum of boxes for pFTLD-Tau but not pADNC. Photoreceptor ONL thickness may serve as an important noninvasive diagnostic marker that distinguishes FTLD-Tau from AD neuropathologic change.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Alzheimer Disease* / diagnostic imaging
  • Biomarkers / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Frontotemporal Dementia*
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / pathology
  • Tauopathies* / diagnosis
  • tau Proteins / cerebrospinal fluid


  • Biomarkers
  • tau Proteins