Impact of Amblyopia on the Central Nervous System

Nathaniel P. Miller, Breanna Aldred, Melanie A. Schmitt, Bas Rokers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Amblyopia is a common perceptual disorder resulting from abnormal visual input during development. The clinical presentation and visual deficits associated with amblyopia are well characterized. Less is known however, about amblyopia’s impact on the central nervous system (CNS). While early insights into the neuropathophysiology of amblyopia have been based on findings from animal models and postmortem human studies, recent advances in noninvasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques have enabled the study of amblyopia’s effects in vivo. We review recent retinal and neuroimaging research documenting amblyopia’s structural and functional impact on the CNS. Clinical imaging provides some evidence for retinal and optic nerve abnormalities in amblyopic eyes, although the overall picture remains inconclusive. Neuroimaging studies report clearer changes in both structure and function of the visual pathways. In the optic nerves, optic tracts, and optic radiations of individuals with amblyopia, white-matter integrity is decreased. In the lateral geniculate nuclei, gray matter volume is decreased and neural activity is reduced. Reduced responses are also seen in the amblyopic primary visual cortex and extrastriate areas. Overall, amblyopia impacts structure and function at multiple sites along the visual processing hierarchy. Moreover, there is some evidence that amblyopia’s impact on the CNS depends on its etiology, with different patterns of results for strabismic and anisometropic amblyopia. To clarify the impact of amblyopia on the CNS, simultaneous collection of retinal, neural, and perceptual measures should be employed. Such an approach will help (1) distinguish cause and effect of amblyopic impairments, (2) separate the impact of amblyopia from other superimposed conditions, and (3) identify the importance of amblyopic etiology to specific neural and perceptual deficits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-192
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Binocular Vision and Ocular Motility
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • Amblyopia
  • CNS
  • OCT; neuroimaging
  • anisometropia
  • central nervous system
  • dMRI
  • fMRI
  • strabismus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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