Adaptive optics (AO) retinal imaging enables individual photoreceptors to be visualized in the clinical setting. AO imaging can be a powerful clinical tool for detecting photoreceptor degeneration at a cellular level that might be overlooked through conventional structural assessments, such as spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT). Therefore, AO imaging has gained significant interest in the study of photoreceptor degeneration, one of the most common causes of inherited blindness. Growing evidence supports that AO imaging may be useful for diagnosing early-stage retinal dystrophy before it becomes apparent on fundus examination or conventional retinal imaging. In addition, serial AO imaging may detect structural disease progression in early-stage disease over a shorter period compared to SD-OCT. Although AO imaging is gaining popularity as a structural endpoint in clinical trials, the results should be interpreted with caution due to several pitfalls, including the lack of standardized imaging and image analysis protocols, frequent ocular comorbidities that affect image quality, and significant interindividual variation of normal values. Herein, we summarize the current state-of-the-art AO imaging and review its potential applications, limitations, and pitfalls in patients with inherited retinal diseases.
Keywords: adaptive optics; photoreceptor; retinal dystrophy; inherited retinal disease; rod-cone dystrophy