Juvenile Batten Disease (CLN3): Detailed Ocular Phenotype, Novel Observations, Delayed Diagnosis, Masquerades, and Prospects for Therapy

Genevieve A. Wright, Michalis Georgiou, Anthony G. Robson, Naser Ali, Ambreen Kalhoro, SM Kleine Holthaus, Nikolas Pontikos, Ngozi Oluonye, Emanuel R. de Carvalho, Magella M. Neveu, Richard G. Weleber, Michel Michaelides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Purpose: To characterize the retinal phenotype of juvenile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (JNCL), highlight delayed and mistaken diagnosis, and propose an algorithm for early identification. Design: Retrospective case series. Participants: Eight children (5 female) with JNCL. Methods: Review of clinical notes, retinal imaging including fundus autofluorescence and OCT, electroretinography (ERG), and both microscopy and molecular genetic testing. Main Outcome Measurements: Demographic data, signs and symptoms, visual acuity (VA), fundus autofluorescence and OCT findings, ERG phenotype, and microscopy/molecular genetics. Results: Participants presented with rapid bilateral vision loss over 1 to 18 months, with mean VA deteriorating from 0.44 logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution (logMAR) (range, 0.20–1.78 logMAR) at baseline to 1.34 logMAR (0.30 logMAR - light perception) at last follow-up. Age of onset ranged from 3 to 7 years (mean, 5.3 years). The age at diagnosis of JNCL ranged from 7 to 10 years (mean, 8.3 years). Six children displayed eccentric fixation, and 6 children had cognitive or neurologic signs at the time of diagnosis (75%). Seven patients had bilateral bull's-eye maculopathy at presentation. Coats-like exudative vasculopathy, not previously reported in JNCL, was observed in 1 patient. OCT imaging revealed near complete loss of outer retinal layers and marked atrophy of the nerve fiber and ganglion cell layers at the central macula. An electronegative ERG was present in 4 patients (50%), but with additional a-wave reduction, there was an undetectable ERG in the remaining 4 patients. Blood film microscopy revealed vacuolated lymphocytes, and electron microscopy showed lysosomal (fingerprint) inclusions in all 8 patients. Conclusions: In a young child with bilateral rapidly progressive vision loss and macular disturbance, blood film microscopy to detect vacuolated lymphocytes is a rapid, readily accessible, and sensitive screening test for JNCL. Early suspicion of JNCL can be aided by detailed directed history and high-resolution retinal imaging, with subsequent targeted microscopy/genetic testing. Early diagnosis is critical to ensure appropriate management, counseling, support, and social care for children and their families. Furthermore, although potential therapies for this group of disorders are in early-phase clinical trial, realistic expectations are that successful intervention will be most effective when initiated at the earliest stage of disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-445
Number of pages13
JournalOphthalmology Retina
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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