Inherited optic neuropathies are a significant cause of childhood and adult blindness and dominant optic atrophy (DOA) is the most common form of autosomally inherited (non-glaucomatous) optic neuropathy. Patients with DOA present with an insidious onset of bilateral visual loss and they characteristically have temporal optic nerve pallor, centrocaecal visual field scotoma, and a colour vision deficit, which is frequently blue-yellow. Evidence from histological and electrophysiological studies suggests that the pathology is confined to the retinal ganglion cell. A gene for dominant optic atrophy (OPA1) has been mapped to chromosome 3q28-qter, and studies are under way to refine the genetic interval in which the gene lies, to map the region physically, and hence to clone the gene. A second locus for dominant optic atrophy has recently been shown to map to chromosome 18q12.2-12.3 near the Kidd blood group locus. The cloning of genes for dominant optic atrophy will provide important insights into the pathophysiology of the retinal ganglion cell in health and disease. These insights may prove to be of great value in the understanding of other primary ganglion cell diseases, such as the mitochondrially inherited Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy and other diseases associated with ganglion cell loss, such as glaucoma.
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