Optical coherence tomography-based assessment of retinal vascular pathology in cerebral small vessel disease

Neurlogical Research and Practice
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Abdelhak A, Huss A, Brück A, Sebert U, Mayer B, Müller HP, Tumani H, Otto M, Yilmazer-Hanke D, Ludolph AC, Kassubek J, Pinkhardt E and Neugebauer H.

 Neurol. Res. Pract. 213 (2020)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s42466-020-00062-4

Abstract

Background

Cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD) is a disorder of brain vasculature that causes various structural changes in the brain parenchyma, and is associated with various clinical symptoms such as cognitive impairment and gait disorders. Structural changes of brain arterioles cannot be visualized with routine imaging techniques in vivo. However, optical coherence tomography (OCT) is thought to be a “window to the brain”. Thus, retinal vessel parameters may correlate with CSVD characteristic brain lesions and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers (CSF) of the neuropathological processes in CSVD like endothelial damage, microglial activation and neuroaxonal damage.

Methods

We applied OCT-based assessment of retinal vessels, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and CSF biomarker analysis in a monocentric prospective cohort of 24 patients with sporadic CSVD related stroke and cognitive impairment. MRI lesions were defined according to the STandards for ReportIng Vascular changes on nEuroimaging (STRIVE). Biomarkers were assessed using commercially available ELISA kits. Owing to the unavailability of an age-matched control-group lacking MRI-characteristics of CSVD, we compared the retinal vessel parameters in CSVD patients (73.8 ± 8.5 years) with a younger group of healthy controls (51.0 ± 16.0 years) by using an age- and sex-adjusted multiple linear regression analysis model.

Results

Among the parameters measured with OCT, the Wall to Lumen Ratio (WLR) but not Mean Wall Thickness (MWT) of the superior branch of the retinal artery correlated significantly with the volume of white matter hyperintensities on MRI (rs = − 0.5) and with CSF-levels of Chitinase 3 like 1 protein (rs = − 0.6), zona occludens 1 protein (rs = − 0.5) and GFAP (rs = − 0.4). MWT and WLR were higher in CSVD than in controls (28.9 μm vs. 23.9 μm, p = 0.001 and 0.32 vs. 0.25, p = 0.001).

Conclusions

In this exploratory study, WLR correlated with the volume of white matter hyperintensities, and markers of vascular integrity, microglial activation, and neuroaxonal damage in CSVD. Further prospective studies should clarify whether retinal vessel parameters and CSF biomarkers may serve to monitor the natural course and treatment effects in clinical studies on CSVD.

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