VEP estimation of visual acuity: a systematic review

Hamilton, R. , Bach, M., Heinrich, S. P., Hoffmann, M. B., Odom, J. V., McCulloch, D. L. and Thompson, D. A. (2021) VEP estimation of visual acuity: a systematic review. Documenta Ophthalmologica, 142(1), pp. 25-74. (doi: 10.1007/s10633-020-09770-3) (PMID:32488810) (PMCID:PMC7907051)

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PURPOSE:Visual evoked potentials (VEPs) can be used to measure visual resolution via a spatial frequency (SF) limit as an objective estimate of visual acuity. The aim of this systematic review is to collate descriptions of the VEP SF limit in humans, healthy and disordered, and to assess how accurately and precisely VEP SF limits reflect visual acuity. METHODS:The protocol methodology followed the PRISMA statement. Multiple databases were searched using "VEP" and "acuity" and associated terms, plus hand search: titles, abstracts or full text were reviewed for eligibility. Data extracted included VEP SF limits, stimulus protocols, VEP recording and analysis techniques and correspondence with behavioural acuity for normally sighted healthy adults, typically developing infants and children, healthy adults with artificially degraded vision and patients with ophthalmic or neurological conditions. RESULTS:A total of 155 studies are included. Commonly used stimulus, recording and analysis techniques are summarised. Average healthy adult VEP SF limits vary from 15 to 40 cpd, depend on stimulus, recording and analysis techniques and are often, but not always, poorer than behavioural acuity measured either psychophysically with an identical stimulus or with a clinical acuity test. The difference between VEP SF limit and behavioural acuity is variable and strongly dependent on the VEP stimulus and choice of acuity test. VEP SF limits mature rapidly, from 1.5 to 9 cpd by the end of the first month of life to 12-20 cpd by 8-12 months, with slower improvement to 20-40 cpd by 3-5 years. VEP SF limits are much better than behavioural thresholds in the youngest, typically developing infants. This difference lessens with age and reaches equivalence between 1 and 2 years; from around 3-5 years, behavioural acuity is better than the VEP SF limit, as for adults. Healthy, artificially blurred adults had slightly better behavioural acuity than VEP SF limits across a wide range of acuities, while adults with heterogeneous ophthalmic or neurological pathologies causing reduced acuity showed a much wider and less consistent relationship. For refractive error, ocular media opacity or pathology primarily affecting the retina, VEP SF limits and behavioural acuity had a fairly consistent relationship across a wide range of acuity. This relationship was much less consistent or close for primarily macular, optic nerve or neurological conditions such as amblyopia. VEP SF limits were almost always normal in patients with non-organic visual acuity loss. CONCLUSIONS:The VEP SF limit has great utility as an objective acuity estimator, especially in pre-verbal children or patients of any age with motor or learning impairments which prevent reliable measurement of behavioural acuity. Its diagnostic power depends heavily on adequate, age-stratified, reference data, age-stratified empirical calibration with behavioural acuity, and interpretation in the light of other electrophysiological and clinical findings. Future developments could encompass faster, more objective and robust techniques such as real-time, adaptive control. REGISTRATION:International prospective register of systematic reviews PROSPERO (, registration number CRD42018085666.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Hamilton, Dr Ruth
Authors: Hamilton, R., Bach, M., Heinrich, S. P., Hoffmann, M. B., Odom, J. V., McCulloch, D. L., and Thompson, D. A.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing
Journal Name:Documenta Ophthalmologica
ISSN (Online):1573-2622
Published Online:02 June 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 The Authors
First Published:First published in Documenta Ophthalmologica 142(1): 25-74
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

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