In vivo exploration of retinal nerve fiber layer morphology in Parkinson’s disease patients
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Thinning of the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) is a recently discovered feature of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Its exact pathological mechanism is yet unknown. We aimed to determine whether morphological changes of the RNFL are limited to RNFL thinning or also comprise an altered internal structure of this layer. Therefore, we investigated RNFL thickness and applied the RNFL attenuation coefficient (RNFL-AC), a novel method derived from optical coherence tomography, in PD patients and healthy controls (HCs). In this pilot study, we included 20 PD patients and 20 HCs matched for age, sex, and ethnicity. An ophthalmologist investigated all participants thoroughly, and we acquired retinal images from both eyes of each participant with a Spectralis optical coherence tomography system. We obtained both the RNFL-AC and RNFL thickness from peripapillary RNFL scans for the entire RNFL, as well as for each quadrant separately. We found no significant differences in the average RNFL-AC or the RNFL-AC of the separate retinal quadrants between PD patients and the HC group. However, compared to the HC group, PD patients had a significantly thinner RNFL in the temporal retinal quadrant. RNFL thinning was found in the temporal quadrant in PD patients without a corresponding change in the RNFL-AC. These findings suggest a reduction in the number of RNFL axons (atrophy) without other major changes in the structural integrity of the remaining RNFL.