Functional analysis and associated factors of the peripapillary retinal nerve fibre layer in former preterm and full-term infants

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The aim of the study was to investigate peripapillary retinal nerve fibre layer thickness (RNFLT) in former preterm infants and full-term neonates using spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT).


The prospective, controlled, cross-sectional, hospital-based study in a tertiary centre with maximum care examined 503 infants with a former gestational age (GA) of ≥37 and ≤32 weeks now aged between 4 and 10 years. In total, we analysed 432 participants with successful circular peripapillary RNFLT OCT measurements. Main outcome measures were RNFLT correlations to GA, birth weight, occurrence of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), perinatal adverse events as well as functional correlation.


Global RNFLT was thinner in infants with GA ≤28 weeks compared with infants with GA between 29 and 32 weeks (p=0.024), and to full-term neonates (p=0.007) independent of the occurrence of ROP. Multivariable analysis revealed that RNFLT was positively associated with higher birth weight and GA. Furthermore, a decrease of RNFLT was related to reduced visual function in all peripapillary sectors.


The main factors for retinal nerve fibre layer thinning are low birth weight and low GA. In addition, decreased RNFLT was associated with reduced visual function. This demonstrates that preterm infants are at high risk for peripapillary RNFL damage associated with reduced visual function.

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