Here we report the discovery of and phenotypic characterization of a retinal disorder of unknown origin in adults using clinical, electrophysiological and psychophysical techniques, and to seek the presence of circulating retinal autoantibodies in the sera of these patients. Sixteen patients were identified with progressive bilateral visual loss over a period of months. Ten of the patients were male, and the average age was 55.3 years (range from 43 to 76 years). Known causes such as carcinoma-associated retinopathy, acute zonal occult outer retinopathy and hereditary cone dystrophy appeared unlikely. Investigations included electrophysiology, fundus autofluorescence imaging and psychophysical tests. The sera of these patients were analyzed with indirect immunocytochemistry and Western immunoblot analysis on murine (BALB/c) retinal tissue for the presence of retinal autoantibodies. Bilateral visual loss and photophobia progressed over a period of months to years (average 28.7 months, range 3-67) and subsequently stabilized. No abnormality was observed by biomicroscopy, angiography or autofluorescence imaging. Electrophysiology indicated predominant cone-system dysfunction, either macular or generalized, and post-phototransduction involvement in 9 patients (56%). Photopic and scotopic visual fields and dark adaptation kinetics showed both cone and rod system involvement in all cases. Heterogeneous immunohistochemical staining patterns were seen with the sera of these patients as compared with controls. A majority of the affected patients (9/15) stained with an antinuclear pattern. The retinal autoantibodies from the sera of most patients reacted with the retinal proteins of molecular weight between 34 and 40 kDa. The aetiology of this distinctive retinal disorder therefore appears to be mediated through an autoimmune mechanism.
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