PURPOSE. To relate in vivo microscopic retinal changes to visual function in patients who have various forms of retinal dystrophy. METHODS. The UC Davis Adaptive Optics (AO) fundus camera was used to acquire in vivo retinal images at the cellular level. Visual function tests consisting of visual fields, multifocal electroretinography (mfERG), and contrast sensitivity were measured in all subjects by using stimuli that were coincident with areas imaged. Five patients with different forms of retinal dystrophy and three control subjects were recruited. Cone densities were quantified for all retinal images. RESULTS. In all images of diseased retinas, there were extensive areas of dark space between groups of photoreceptors, where no cone photoreceptors were evident. These irregular features were not seen in healthy retinas, but were apparent in patients with retinal dystrophy. There were significant correlations between functional vision losses and the extent to which these irregularities, quantified by cone density, occurred in retinal images. CONCLUSIONS. AO fundus imaging is a reliable technique for assessing and quantifying the changes in the photoreceptor layer as disease progresses. Furthermore, this technique can be useful in cases where visual function tests provide borderline or ambiguous results, as it allows visualization of individual photoreceptors.
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