Eye Pigment Levels May Provide Biomarker of Cognitive Function

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Measuring the amount of a type of pigment in the eye may offer a way of assessing potential cognitive decline.

John Nolan, PhD, of the Macular Pigment Research Group at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, and colleagues looked at two patient groups — one with early age-related macular degeneration, and the other without the degeneration, but with low macular pigment. They looked at the relationship between serum concentrations of the macular carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, macular pigment levels in the eye, and cognitive function.

There was a link between macular pigment levels in the eye and various measures of cognitive performance in both groups of patients, the researchers reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. However, serum lutein and zeaxanthin levels correlated with cognitive performance on only two tests.

When the researchers controlled for variables such as age, gender, diet, and education levels, the correlations between macular pigment and cognitive function remained statistically significant.

“Given the growing prevalence of Alzheimer's, it is obviously very exciting to be involved in leading-edge research that is opening up new possibilities in terms of detecting patients at most risk of the disease at an earlier stage than has previously been possible,” Nolan said in a statement.

Eye Pigment Levels May Provide Biomarker of Cognitive Function
Biomarker may provide a way of detecting patients at risk of developing Alzheimer's at earlier stage than currently available.

Ongoing European Research Council-funded research at Waterford Institute of Technology's (WIT) Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG) is investigating the potential link between cognitive function and levels of a vital eye pigment linked to diet. The study suggests that measuring macular pigment offers potential as a biomarker of cognitive health.

The Waterford clinical trial research, conducted by a team of 10 researchers and healthcare professionals, investigated two patient groups — those free of retinal disease but with low macular pigment and those with early age-related macular degeneration.

A series of tests were carried out on the volunteer trial patients at the analytical and vision laboratories in Carriganore House on WIT's West Campus where the MPRG is based. These examined the relationship between serum concentrations of the macular carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, macular pigment levels in the eye and cognitive function.

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