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Dysflective cones: Visual function and cone reflectivity in long-term follow-up of acute bilateral foveolitis



Confocal adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope (AOSLO) images provide a sensitive measure of cone structure. However, the relationship between structural findings of diminished cone reflectivity and visual function is unclear. We used fundus-referenced testing to evaluate visual function in regions of apparent cone loss identified using confocal AOSLO images.


A patient diagnosed with acute bilateral foveolitis had spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) (Spectralis HRA + OCT system [Heidelberg Engineering, Vista, CA, USA]) images indicating focal loss of the inner segment-outer segment junction band with an intact, but hyper-reflective, external limiting membrane. Five years after symptom onset, visual acuity had improved from 20/80 to 20/25, but the retinal appearance remained unchanged compared to 3 months after symptoms began. We performed structural assessments using SD-OCT, directional OCT (non-standard use of a prototype on loan from Carl Zeiss Meditec) and AOSLO (custom-built system). We also administered fundus-referenced functional tests in the region of apparent cone loss, including analysis of preferred retinal locus (PRL), AOSLO acuity, and microperimetry with tracking SLO (TSLO) (prototype system). To determine AOSLO-corrected visual acuity, the scanning laser was modulated with a tumbling E consistent with 20/30 visual acuity. Visual sensitivity was assessed in and around the lesion using TSLO microperimetry. Complete eye examination, including standard measures of best-corrected visual acuity, visual field tests, color fundus photos, and fundus auto-fluorescence were also performed.


Despite a lack of visible cone profiles in the foveal lesion, fundus-referenced vision testing demonstrated visual function within the lesion consistent with cone function. The PRL was within the lesion of apparent cone loss at the fovea. AOSLO visual acuity tests were abnormal, but measurable: for trials in which the stimulus remained completely within the lesion, the subject got 48% correct, compared to 78% correct when the stimulus was outside the lesion. TSLO microperimetry revealed reduced, but detectible, sensitivity thresholds within the lesion.

Conclusions and importance

Fundus-referenced visual testing proved useful to identify functional cones despite apparent photoreceptor loss identified using AOSLO and SD-OCT. While AOSLO and SD-OCT appear to be sensitive for the detection of abnormal or absent photoreceptors, changes in photoreceptors that are identified with these imaging tools do not correlate completely with visual function in every patient. Fundus-referenced vision testing is a useful tool to indicate the presence of cones that may be amenable to recovery or response to experimental therapies despite not being visible on confocal AOSLO or SD-OCT images.

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