Foveal photoreceptor disruption in ocular diseases: An optical coherence tomography-based differential diagnosis

Surv Ophthalmol. 2023 Jul-Aug;68(4):655-668. doi: 10.1016/j.survophthal.2023.03.003. Epub 2023 Mar 18.


Fovea centralis, located at the center of the macula, is packed with cone photoreceptors and is responsible for central visual acuity. Isolated foveal photoreceptor disruption may occur in a variety of hereditary, degenerative, traumatic, and toxic chorioretinal diseases. These have been known previously by multiple synonyms including macular microhole, foveal spot, and outer foveal microdefects. A common clinical feature underlying these conditions is the presence of apparently normal fovea or subtle hypopigmented lesion at the foveal or juxtafoveal area. A detailed history along with high-resolution optical coherence tomography is often helpful to derive a conclusive diagnosis in majority of these cases. Focal photoreceptor disruption usually involves loss or rarefaction of ellipsoid/interdigitation zone, either in isolation or associated with external limiting membrane or retinal pigment epithelium disruption in the fovea. Vitreomacular interface (VMI) disorders including vitreomacular traction, posterior vitreous detachment, epiretinal membrane, and impending macular hole possibly remain the most common cause. Retinal dystrophies such as cone dystrophy, occult macular dystrophy, and achromatopsia may present with diminution of vision and normal appearing fundus in a younger age group. Other causes include photic retinopathy (e.g., from a history of sun gazing or laser pointer exposure), blunt trauma, drug exposure (e.g., poppers maculopathy or tamoxifen retinopathy), and acute retinal pigment epitheliopathy (ARPE). Visual prognosis depends on the underlying etiology with complete recovery common in the subset of patients with VMI, and ARPE, whereas persistent outer retinal defects are the rule in other conditions. We discuss the differential diagnoses that lead to isolated foveal photoreceptor defects. Identifying and understanding the underlying disease processes that cause foveal photoreceptor disruption may help predict visual prognosis.

Keywords: Achromatopsia; Cone dystrophy; Foveal photoreceptor disruption; Impending macular hole; Occult macular dystrophy; Photic retinopathy; Poppers maculopathy; Posterior vitreous detachment; Solar retinopathy; Tamoxifen retinopathy; Vitreomacular interface disorder; Vitreomacular traction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Eye Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Fovea Centralis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Retinal Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Retinal Perforations* / diagnosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence / methods