In Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the presence of circadian dysfunction is well-known and may occur early in the disease course. The melanopsin retinal ganglion cell (mRGC) system may play a relevant role in contributing to circadian dysfunction. In this study, we aimed at evaluating, through a multimodal approach, the mRGC system in AD at an early stage of disease.
We included 29 mild–moderate AD (70.9 ± 11 years) and 26 (70.5 ± 8 years) control subjects. We performed an extensive neurophtalmological evaluation including optical coherence tomography with ganglion cell layer segmentation, actigraphic evaluation of the rest-activity rhythm, chromatic pupillometry analyzed with a new data-fitting approach, and brain functional MRI combined with light stimuli assessing the mRGC system.
We demonstrated a significant thinning of the infero-temporal sector of the ganglion cell layer in AD compared to controls. Moreover, we documented by actigraphy the presence of a circadian-impaired AD subgroup. Overall, circadian measurements worsened by age. Chromatic pupillometry evaluation highlighted the presence of a pupil-light response reduction in the rod condition pointing to mRGC dendropathy. Finally, brain fMRI showed a reduced occipital cortex activation with blue light particularly for the sustained responses.
Overall, the results of this multimodal innovative approach clearly document a dysfunctional mRGC system at early stages of disease as a relevant contributing factor for circadian impairment in AD providing also support to the use of light therapy in AD.