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Klin Monbl Augenheilkd. 2017 Feb;234(2):194-204. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-104588. Epub 2016 Aug 9.

[Are Visual Field Defects Reversible? - Visual Rehabilitation with Brains].

[Article in German]

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Institut für Medizinische Psychologie, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg.


Visual field defects are considered irreversible because the retina and optic nerve do not regenerate. Nevertheless, there is some potential for recovery of the visual fields. This can be accomplished by the brain, which analyses and interprets visual information and is able to amplify residual signals through neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change its own functional architecture by modulating synaptic efficacy. This is actually the neurobiological basis of normal learning. Plasticity is maintained throughout life and can be induced by repetitively stimulating (training) brain circuits. The question now arises as to how plasticity can be utilised to activate residual vision for the treatment of visual field loss. Just as in neurorehabilitation, visual field defects can be modulated by post-lesion plasticity to improve vision in glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or optic neuropathy. Because almost all patients have some residual vision, the goal is to strengthen residual capacities by enhancing synaptic efficacy. New treatment paradigms have been tested in clinical studies, including vision restoration training and non-invasive alternating current stimulation. While vision training is a behavioural task to selectively stimulate "relative defects" with daily vision exercises for the duration of 6 months, treatment with alternating current stimulation (30 min. daily for 10 days) activates and synchronises the entire retina and brain. Though full restoration of vision is not possible, such treatments improve vision, both subjectively and objectively. This includes visual field enlargements, improved acuity and reaction time, improved orientation and vision related quality of life. About 70 % of the patients respond to the therapies and there are no serious adverse events. Physiological studies of the effect of alternating current stimulation using EEG and fMRI reveal massive local and global changes in the brain. These include local activation of the visual cortex and global reorganisation of neuronal brain networks. Because modulation of neuroplasticity can strengthen residual vision, the brain deserves a better reputation in ophthalmology for its role in visual rehabilitation. For patients, there is now more light at the end of the tunnel, because vision loss in some areas of the visual field defect is indeed reversible.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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