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Distinct alterations of retinal structure between thalamic and extra-thalamic subcortical infarction patients: A cross-sectional and longitudinal study.

AIMS: Cerebrovascular lesions in the primary visual cortex, the lateral geniculate nucleus, and the optic tract have been associated with retinal neurodegeneration via the retrograde degeneration (RD) mechanism. We aimed to use optical coherence tomography (OCT) to assess the effects of the strategic single subcortical infarction (SSI) location on retinal neurodegeneration and its longitudinal impacts.

METHODS: Patients with SSI were enrolled and stratified by lesion location on cerebral MRI into the thalamic infarction group and extra-thalamic infarction group. Healthy controls from the native communities were also recruited. Retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) and ganglion cell-inner plexiform layer (GCIPL) were quantified using OCT. Generalized estimating equation (GEE) models were used for cross-sectional analyses and linear mixed models for longitudinal analyses. P < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.

RESULTS: We included a total of 283 eyes from 149 SSI patients. Of these, 115 eyes of 60 patients with follow-up were included in the longitudinal analyses. Cross-sectionally, thalamic-infarction patients had reduced retinal thickness compared with extra-thalamic infarction patients after adjustment for age, gender, disease duration, and vascular risk factors (p = 0.026 for RNFL, and p = 0.026 for GCIPL). Longitudinally, SSI patients showed greater retinal thinning compared with healthy controls over time (p = 0.040 for RNFL, and p < 0.001 for GCIPL), and thalamic infarction patients exhibited faster rates of GCIPL thinning in comparison with extra-thalamic infarction patients (p < 0.001).

CONCLUSION: Our study demonstrates a distinct effect of subcortical infarction lesion site on the retina both at the early stage of disease and at the 1-year follow-up time. These results present evidence of significant associations between strategic infarction locations and retinal neurodegeneration. It may provide novel insights for further research on RD in stroke patients and ultimately facilitate individualized recovery therapeutic strategy.

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