Vitreoretinal Degeneration, Snowflake Type

Clinical Characteristics
Ocular Features: 

The retina and vitreous are primarily affected in this disorder.  The age of onset is unknown but characteristic signs can be seen early in the second decade of life.   Early changes include thickening of the cortical vitreous and white dots in the superficial layers of the retina.  The latter are minute yellow-white crystalline deposits more common in the peripheral retina.  Many (83%) patients have early onset cataracts.  Corneal guttae are common (80% of patients).  The vitreous undergoes fibrillar degeneration with liquefaction and eventually appears optically empty.  Many patients experience symptoms of floaters.  The vitreous changes most closely resemble that seen in Wagner syndrome (143200) but with important differences.  In the latter disorder the vitreous changes are membranous, the retinal changes are deeper in location, RPE changes are evident, the choroid and RPE are involved, and the risk of retinal detachment is much higher.  Only 21% of patients with snowflake vitreoretinal degeneration have retinal detachments compared with about 50% in Wagner syndrome.  Retinal vasculature change such as perivascular sheathing and attenuation of arterioles may be seen in both disorders but occur far less commonly in snowflake degeneration.

Based on lack of visual symptoms, the photoreceptors are minimally involved.  Electrophysiologic studies reveal an elevated dark adaptation and reduced scotopic B waves.  Most patients retain excellent vision.  However, the optic nerve may have a waxy pallor and frequently appears flat and lacks a visible cup. 

Systemic Features: 



Snowflake vitreoretinal degeneration is an autosomal dominant disorder.   Heterozygous missense mutations have been found in KCNJ13 (2q37) in a single family.  Mutations in the same gene have been identified in rare cases of Leber congenital amaurosis.

Autosomal dominant
Treatment Options: 

Visually significant cataracts may be removed.  Patients need to be observed throughout life to enable prompt intervention when retinal detachments occur.

Article Title: 

Leber Congenital Amaurosis

Clinical Characteristics
Ocular Features: 

Leber congenital amaurosis is a collective term applied to multiple recessively inherited conditions with early-onset retinal dystrophy causing infantile or early childhood blindness.  There are no established diagnostic criteria.  First signs are usually noted before the age of 6 months.  These consist of a severe reduction in vision accompanied by nystagmus, abnormal pupillary responses, and photophobia.  Ametropia in the form of hyperopia is common.  Keratoconus (and keratoglobus) is frequently found in older children but it is uncertain if this is a primary abnormality or secondary to eye rubbing as the latter is commonly observed.  Repeated pressure on the eye may also be responsible for the relative enophthalmos often seen in these patients.  The ERG is reduced or absent early and permanently.  Final visual acuity is seldom better than 20/400 and perhaps one-third of affected individuals have no light perception.  Some individuals experience a period of vision improvement.

The retina usually has pigmentary changes but these are not diagnostic.  Retinal vessels are generally attenuated.  The RPE may have a finely granulated appearance or, in some cases, whitish dots, and even 'bone spicules'.

Systemic Features: 

A variety of metabolic and physical abnormalities have been reported with LCA but many publications are from the pre-genomic era and the significance of such associations remains uncertain.  Most extraocular signs result from delays in mental development but it is uncertain what role, if any, that visual deprivation plays.  Perhaps 20% of patients are mentally retarded or have significant cognitive deficits.


Leber congenital amaurosis is genetically heterogeneous with at least 18 known gene mutations associated with the phenotype.  It is also clinically heterogeneous both within and among families and this is the major obstacle to the delineation of individual clinicogenetic entities.  As more patients are genotyped, it is likely that more precise genotype-phenotype correlations will emerge.  At the present time, however, it is not possible to use clinical findings alone to distinguish individual conditions.

Below are links to the genotypic and phenotypic features of the 19 known types of LCA.  All cause disease in the homozygous or compound heterozygous state. 

LCA type               OMIM#                 Locus              Gene Symbol   

LCA 1                    204000                 7p13.1                 GUCY2D

LCA 2                    204100                 1p31                    RPE65**

LCA 3                    604232                 14q31.3               SPATA7

LCA 4                    604393                 17p13.1               AIPL1

LCA 5                    604537                 6q14.1                 LCA5

LCA 6                    613826                 14q11                  RPGRIP1

LCA 7                    613829                19q13.1                CRX*

LCA 8                    613835                 1q31-q32             CRB1

LCA 9                    608553                 1p36                    NMNAT1

LCA 10                  611755                 12q21                  CEP290

LCA 11                  613837                 7q31.3-q332        IMPDH1

LCA 12                  610612                 1q32.3                 RD3

LCA 13                  612712                 14q24.1               RDH12

LCA 14                  613341                 4q31                    LRAT

LCA 15                  613843                 6p21-31              TULP1

LCA 16                  614186                 2q37                    KCNJ13

LCA 17                  615360                 8q22.1                 GDF6

LCA 18                  608133                 6p21.1                 PRPH2***

It is likely that more mutant genes will be identified since these are found in only about half of patients studied in large series.  

*(Heterozygous mutations in CRX may also cause a cone-rod dystrophy).

**(Mutations in RPE65 has been described as also causing retinitis pigmentosa (RP20; 613794)  with choroidal involvement.)

***Mutations in PRPH2 (RDS) has also been reported to cause retinitis pigmentosa 7, choroidal dystrophy, and vitelliform macular dystrophy (179605) among others.

See also Leber Congenital Amaurosis with Early-Onset Deafness.

Mutations in the GUCY2D gene seem to be the most common being present in about 21% of LCA patients with CRB1 next at 10%.

Autosomal recessive
Treatment Options: 

Until recently, no treatment was available for LCA.  However, results from early clinical trials with adeno-associated virus vector mediated gene therapy for RPE65 mutations in LCA 2 show promise.  Subretinal placement of recombinant  adeno-virus carrying RPE65 complementary DNA results in both subjective and objective improvements in visual function.  Patients generally report subjective improvement in light sensitivity and visual mobility.  Some recovery of rod and cone photoreceptor function has been documented.  Studies have also documented an improvement in visual acuity, size of visual field, pupillary responses, and in the amouunt of nystagmus.  More than 230 patients have now  been treated and improvements seem to be maintained for at least 3 or more years.  However, we have also learned that along with the enzymatic dysfunction of RPE65 that disrupts the visual cycle, there is also degeneration of photoreceptors which continues after treatment and the long term prognosis remains guarded. Multiple phase I clinical trials have demonstrated the safety of this approach and phase III trials are now underway.

It is crucial for patients to be enrolled early in sensory stimulation programs to ensure optimum neural development.  For patients with residual vision, low vision aids can be beneficial.  Vocational and occupational therapy should be considered for appropriate patients.

Article Title: 

Mutations in NMNAT1 cause Leber congenital amaurosis and identify a new disease

Koenekoop RK, Wang H, Majewski J, Wang X, Lopez I, Ren H, Chen Y, Li Y,
Fishman GA, Genead M, Schwartzentruber J, Solanki N, Traboulsi EI, Cheng J, Logan
CV, McKibbin M, Hayward BE, Parry DA, Johnson CA, Nageeb M; Finding of Rare
Disease Genes (FORGE) Canada Consortium, Poulter JA, Mohamed MD, Jafri H, Rashid
Y, Taylor GR, Keser V, Mardon G, Xu H, Inglehearn CF, Fu Q, Toomes C, Chen R.
Mutations in NMNAT1 cause Leber congenital amaurosis and identify a new disease
pathway for retinal degeneration
. Nat Genet. 2012 Jul 29.

PubMed ID: 

A dominant mutation in RPE65 identified by whole-exome sequencing causes retinitis pigmentosa with choroidal involvement

Bowne SJ, Humphries MM, Sullivan LS, Kenna PF, Tam LC, Kiang AS, Campbell M, Weinstock GM, Koboldt DC, Ding L, Fulton RS, Sodergren EJ, Allman D, Millington-Ward S, Palfi A, McKee A, Blanton SH, Slifer S, Konidari I, Farrar GJ, Daiger SP, Humphries P. A dominant mutation in RPE65 identified by whole-exome sequencing causes retinitis pigmentosa with choroidal involvement. Eur J Hum Genet. 2011 Oct;19(10):1074-81. Erratum in: Eur J Hum Genet. 2011 Oct;19(10):1109.

PubMed ID: 

Treatment of leber congenital amaurosis due to RPE65 mutations by ocular subretinal injection of adeno-associated virus gene vector: short-term results of a phase I trial

Hauswirth WW, Aleman TS, Kaushal S, Cideciyan AV, Schwartz SB, Wang L, Conlon TJ, Boye SL, Flotte TR, Byrne BJ, Jacobson SG. Treatment of leber congenital amaurosis due to RPE65 mutations by ocular subretinal injection of adeno-associated virus gene vector: short-term results of a phase I trial. Hum Gene Ther. 2008 Oct;19(10):979-90.

PubMed ID: 

Effect of gene therapy on visual function in Leber's congenital amaurosis

Bainbridge JW, Smith AJ, Barker SS, Robbie S, Henderson R, Balaggan K, Viswanathan A, Holder GE, Stockman A, Tyler N, Petersen-Jones S, Bhattacharya SS, Thrasher AJ, Fitzke FW, Carter BJ, Rubin GS, Moore AT, Ali RR. Effect of gene therapy on visual function in Leber's congenital amaurosis. N Engl J Med. 2008 May 22;358(21):2231-9.

PubMed ID: 

Leber congenital amaurosis

Perrault I, Rozet JM, Gerber S, Ghazi I, Leowski C, Ducroq D, Souied E, Dufier JL, Munnich A, Kaplan J. Leber congenital amaurosis. Mol Genet Metab. 1999 Oct;68(2):200-8. Review.

PubMed ID: 
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