Early visual alterations in individuals at-risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a multidisciplinary approach

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Background: The earliest pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) appear decades before the clinical symptoms. The pathology affects the brain and the eye, leading to retinal structural changes and functional visual alterations. Healthy individuals at high risk of developing AD present alterations in these ophthalmological measures, as well as in resting-state electrophysiological activity. However, it is unknown whether the ophthalmological alterations are related to the visual-related electrophysiological activity. Elucidating this relationship is paramount to understand the mechanisms underlying the early deterioration of the system and an important step in assessing the suitability of these measures as early biomarkers of disease. Methods: In total, 144 healthy subjects: 105 with family history of AD and 39 without, underwent ophthalmologic analysis, magnetoencephalography recording, and genotyping. A subdivision was made to compare groups with less demographic and more risk differences: 28 high-risk subjects (relatives/APOEɛ4 +) and 16 low-risk (non-relatives/APOEɛ4 −). Differences in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and macular thickness were evaluated. Correlations between each variable and visual-related electrophysiological measures (M100 latency and time–frequency power) were calculated for each group. Results: High-risk groups showed increased visual acuity. Visual acuity was also related to a lower M100 latency and a greater power time–frequency cluster in the high-risk group. Low-risk groups did not show this relationship. High-risk groups presented trends towards a greater contrast sensitivity that did not remain significant after correction for multiple comparisons. The highest-risk group showed trends towards the thinning of the inner plexiform and inner nuclear layers that did not remain significant after correction. The correlation between contrast sensitivity and macular thickness, and the electrophysiological measures were not significant after correction. The difference between the high- and low- risk groups correlations was no significant. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this paper is the first of its kind, assessing the relationship between ophthalmological and electrophysiological measures in healthy subjects at distinct levels of risk of AD. The results are novel and unexpected, showing an increase in visual acuity among high-risk subjects, who also exhibit a relationship between this measure and visual-related electrophysiological activity. These results have not been previously explored and could constitute a useful object of research as biomarkers for early detection and the evaluation of potential interventions’ effectiveness.
Received: 08 July 2022; Accepted: 08 January 2023; Published: 24 January 2023