Diagnosing MacTel

For Healthcare Providers


Macular Telangiectasia type 2 is a rare disease of the retina that leads to a gradual loss of central vision. MacTel is estimated to affect about 0.1% of the population, and its onset is age-related. Affected individuals are typically diagnosed in their 50s and 60s. MacTel is sometimes mistaken for age-related macular degeneration, due to similar patterns of neovascularization in both diseases.

MacTel is a bilateral disease. Fellow eyes are usually similarly affected by the disease, showing the same pathological features. However, the disease may progress at a different rate in each eye.

The retinal alterations caused by MacTel usually begin in a temporal paracentral area. Retinal changes are most pronounced on the temporal side of the retina. Microperimetry and OCT studies to assess function and structure, respectively, suggest that the area temporal to the fovea can be considered the epicenter of disease.

As MacTel progresses, it may encompass an oval region with a radius of about 6⁰ horizontally and 5⁰ vertically, centered on the foveola. Alternatively, MacTel may affect a circular region of the retina, centered on the foveola. MacTel may also be restricted to the temporal macula, leaving the nasal side mostly unaffected.

A report published by members of the MacTel Project describes the macular changes that may be observed in Macular Telangiectasia type 2 patients.

Early signs and symptoms of MacTel:

    • Blunting or lack of the foveolar reflex. This observation is restricted to early-stage disease.
    • Crystalline deposits, located in the inner retina at the level of the inner limiting membrane. They may appear as hyperreflective dots at the anterior surface of the nerve fiber layer in OCT scans. The deposits are present at all stages of disease. In participants of the MacTel Natural History Study, 46% of patients had crystalline deposits. For those with deposits, 60% showed deposits bilaterally.
    • Reduced retinal transparency in the parafoveolar area may be one of the first visible changes in the retina. This symptom is also referred to as retinal graying.


Common symptoms of MacTel:

    • Mildly ectatic capillaries affect primarily the deeper capillary network, though telangiectatic vessels have been observed in inner and outer retinal circulation.
    • Blunted, slightly dilated venules are often associated with ectatic capillaries and, in later disease stages, with retinal pigment plaques. These vessels don’t appear to narrow as they approach the foveola, rather, they suddenly seem to dive at right angles into the deeper retinal layers.
    • Foveal atrophy. This may appear as small foveal non-prominent cysts, or a pseudo-lamellar macular hole, or as slightly altered foveal reflectivity. Atrophy can be missed on fundus images. Atrophy of the outer retinal photoreceptor layer is the endpoint of MacTel, and results in localized loss of visual function.
    • Abnormal distribution of macular pigment. Macular pigment deposition is normally concentrated in the fovea. In MacTel eyes, there is a loss of macular pigment from the central retina. Instead, MacTel eyes show a ring of pigments about 12 degrees in diameter, much larger than the normal 1-2 degrees in diameter. This can be visualized with autofluorescence imaging. Dietary supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin enhanced the existing ring of macular pigments, but it did not restore normal macular pigment distribution.
    • Retinal pigment plaques (pigment-hyperplasia) seem to originate from small foci of RPE hyperplasia that migrate into the neurosensory retina. Photoreceptor atrophy precedes, and may cause, the presence of retinal pigment plaques. Retinal pigment plaques may be surrounded by RPE atrophy.


Rarely observed features of MacTel:

  • A small round yellow spot may be found centered on the fovea, roughly ½-disc diameter size.
  • Small retinal hemorrhages in the absence of a neovascular complex. These are transient, usually resolving in a few weeks.
  • True lamellar, or full thickness macular holes, may occur. This is a complication of the disease, possibly resulting from the progressive degeneration and atrophy of the retina. Cellular death may destabilize the fovea, leading to a macular hole which may be more difficult to surgically treat than other types of macular holes.
  • Neovascular complexes may develop at any time point, and complicate the natural course of the disease. These are most commonly located temporal to the foveola. They seem to originate from the retinal vasculature, not the choroid as is seen in age-related macular degeneration. In MacTel, these neovascular complexes may, however, still gain access to the subretinal space and develop chorio-retinal shunts.

Diagnosing MacTel with Retinal Imaging:

Fluorescein angiography is commonly used to detect vascular alterations that occur due to MacTel. Fluorescein angiography typically shows telangiectatic capillaries temporal to the foveola in early-stage MacTel. In late-stage disease, fluorescein angiography shows a diffuse hyperfluoresence. It should be noted that MacTel causes retinal changes that cannot be seen by fluorescein angiography. This tool will not be effective, alone, to detect early cases of MacTel.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a non-invasive imaging technique that uses long-wavelength light to generates high-resolution images of the retina in cross-section. OCT can be used to detect changes related to MacTel, at very early stages. OCT shows asymmetry in the foveal dip very early. It also shows hyporeflective cavities of the inner and outer neurosensory MacTel retina, and increased reflectivity of inner neurosensory layers. Importantly, OCT is used to measure the IS/OS break, which is the disruption of the border between inner and outer photoreceptor segments, and has been one of the inclusion criteria for participation in clinical studies.

Confocal Reflectance Imaging with a blue laser at 488 nm shows an increased reflectance in the parafoveolar region of MacTel eyes, surrounded by decreased reflectivity. This has also been referred to as “Blue light reflectance imaging.” The images can be captured with a fundus camera and confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscope. The area of increased reflectance is coincident with the loss of macular pigment. Imaging macular pigment loss is a more reliable marker of early disease.

Macular Pigment Density can be imaged in MacTel by a variety of techniques: two-wavelength fundus autofluorescence, two-wavelength reflectance maps, and spectral fundus reflectometry.

Confocal Adaptive Optics Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscopy is a non-invasive imaging technique that can be used to see individual photoreceptors in the back of the eye, along with other features, like cysts, blood vessels, and the RPE cell layer. Using adaptive optics, it is possible to begin to understand how MacTel affects photoreceptor health and function. Adaptive optics is time-consuming and requires very specialized instrumentation.  Adaptive optics imaging is not widely available, and is not appropriate for diagnostic purposes, but it is being used in the ongoing clinical trials.

United Kingdom
Moorfields Eye Hospital

London, United Kingdom
Cathy Egan, MD

Emily Magnus
Tel: 020 7566 2117

Oxford Eye Hospital

Headington, Oxford
Peter Charbel Issa MD

Alexina Fantano
Tel: 01865 231053


United States


Scripps Research Institute

La Jolla, CA USA
Martin Friedlander, MD, PhD

Jennifer Trombley, RN
Tel: 858-554-6678
Email: Trombley.jennifer@scrippshealth.org

Jules Stein Eye Institute, UCLA

Los Angeles, CA USA
Jean-Pierre Hubschman, MD

Veronika Sadykov
Tel: 310-794-5596
Email: Sadykov@jsei.ucla.edu

Mary Crowley
Tel: 310-267-5278 Email:
Email: MECrowley@mednet.ucla.edu

University of California – San Francisco

UCSF Department of Ophthalmology
San Fransciso, CA USA
Jacque Duncan, MD

Arshia Mian
Tel: 415-476-0444
Email: arshia.mian@ucsf.edu

Byers Eye Institute – Stanford University

Palo Alto, California
Diana Do, MD

Lisa Greer
Tel: 650-725-9184
Email: lgreer7@stanford.edu


Retina Consultants of Southern Colorado

Colorado Springs, CO
Ryan Rich, MD

Sarah Roberts
Tel: 719-473-9595 ext. 134
Email: sroberts@coloradoretina.com

Brad Lovelace
Email: bradlovelace@coloradoretina.com


Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami

Miami, FL USA
Philip Rosenfeld, MD

Cristina Lage-Rodriguez
Tel: 305-326-6117
Email: clage@med.miami.edu


Emory University

Atlanta, GA
Jiong Yan, MD

Jayne Brown
Tel: 404-778-4430
Email: jmbrown@emory.edu


Northwestern University

Evanston, IL
Amani Fawzi, MD

Nicole Seddon
Tel: 312.695-0252
Email: nreinhol@nm.org


Retina Associates New Orleans

New Orleans, LA USA
Stanislav A. Zhuk, MD

Corey Marvel
Tel: 504-456-9061 ext 1111
Email: cmarvel@retinaassociates.org

Melinda Mitchell
Email: Melinda.mitchell@retinaassociates.org


Cumberland Valley Retina Consultants

Hagerstown, MD 21740
David Warrow, MD

Paula Smith
Tel: 301-665-1712
Email: paulas@retinacare.net


Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary

Boston, MA USA
Joan Miller, MD

Patricia Houlihan
Tel: 617-573-3646
Email: patricia_houlihan@meei.harvard.edu

New England Retina Consultants

Springfield, MA. 01107
David LaLLY, MD

Leah Persky
Tel: 413-788-6044
Email: persky.leah@gmail.com


University of Michigan, Kellogg Eye Center

Ann Arbor, MI USA
Grant Comer, MD

Pam Campbell
Tel: 734-936-0138
Email: pamtitus@med.umich.edu

Associated Retinal Consultants – Royal Oak

Royal Oak, MI
Sandeep Randhawa, MD

Kendra Mellert
Tel: 248-288-9132 ext. 1313
E-mail: kmellert@arcpc.net

Associated Retinal Consultants – Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids, MI
V. Raphaelian, M.D.

Deb Markus
Email: dmarkus@arcpc.net

Associated Retinal Consultants – Traverse City

Traverse City, MI
Scott Sneed, MD

Serena Neal
Email: sneal@arcpc.net


Mayo Clinic

Rochester, MN
Sophie Bakri, MD

Heidi Rubin
Email: Rubin.heidi@mayo.edu


Sierra Eye Associates

Reno, NV
Arshad Khanani, MD

Deanna Dorman
Tel: 775-329-0286 x 141

New Jersey

Retina Center of New Jersey

Bloomfield, NJ
Patrick Higgins, MD

Diane Deininger
Tel: 973-707-5632
Email: ddeininger@retinacenternj.com

Susan Anderson
Tel: 973-707-5632
Email: sanderson@retinacenternj.com

New York

Vitreous, Retina, Macula Consultants of New York

New York, NY USA
Lawrence A. Yannuzzi, MD

Renata Salgado
Tel: 212-452-6965
Email: rsalgado@vrmny.com

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary

New York, NY USA
Richard Rosen, MD

Meliza Unson
Tel: 212-979-4672
Email: munson@nyee.edu

University of Rochester

Rochester, NY USA
Mina Chung, MD

Lisa Latchney
Tel: 585-273-2742
Email: Lisa_latchney@urmc.rochester.edu


Retina Associates of Cleveland, Inc.

Cleveland, OH USA
Lawrence Singerman, MD

Diane Weiss
Tel: 216-831-5704 Ext. 244
Email: dew@retina-assoc.com

Cincinnati Eye Institute

Cincinnati, OH USA
Daniel Miller, MD

Megan Kingdon
Tel: 513-569-3669
Email: mkingdon@cincinnatieye.com


Retina Northwest

Portland, OR
Michael Lee, MD

Pualani Smith

Tel: 971-865-2780
Email: psmith@retinanorthwest.com


Scheie Eye Institute

Philadelphia, PA USA
Alexander Brucker, MD

Sheri Drossner
Tel: 215-662-8177
Email: Sheri.Grand@uphs.upenn.edu


Retina Research Center

Austin, TX USA
Chirag Jhaveri, MD
Brian Berger, MD

Ivana Gunderson
Tel: 512-279-1251
Email: igunderson@e-retina.net


University of Utah Medical Center

Salt Lake City, Utah
Paul Bernstein, MD, PhD.

Kara Halsey
Tel: 801-213-2034
Email: Kara.halsey@utah.edu


University of Washington Eye Institute

Seattle, WA
Cecilia Lee, MD

Ian Luttrell
Email: luttri@uw.edu

Francy Moses
Email: mosesf@uw.edu


Medical College of Wisconsin

Milwaukee, WI USA
David Weinberg, MD

Ellie Dorsey
Tel: 414-955-7854
Email: edorsey@mcw.edu

Hopital Lariboisiere

Paris, France
Alain Gaudric, MD

Abir Zureik
Tel: 33 1 49 95 64 86
Email: abir.zureik@aphp.fr

Universitats-Augenklinik Bonn

Bonn, Germany
Frank Holz, MD

Simone Müller
Email: Simone.Mueller@ukbonn.de

Kerstin Bartsch
Email: Kerstin.Bartsch@ukbonn.de

St. Franziskus Hospital

Muenster, Germany
Prof. Daniel Pauleikhoff

Elke Attenberger
Tel: 0251-9352758
Email: elke.attenberger@uveitis-zentrum.de

Eye Center, Medical Center

Felicitas Bucher, MD

Dagmar Rommel
Telefon: 0761 270-40231
Email: dagmar.rommel@uniklinik-freiburg.de

The Goldschleger Eye Institute

Tel Hashomer, Israel
Joseph Moisseiev, MD

Rinat Rashty
Tel: 972-3-530 2877
Email: Rinat.rashty@sheba.health.gov.il


Klinik und Poliklinik fur Augenheilkunde
University of Bern
Bern, Switzerland
Sebastian Wolf, MD, PhD
41 31 6328503

Center for Eye Research Australia

Melbourne, Australia
Robyn Guymer, MD

Melinda Cain
Tel: 61 3 9929 8396
Email: mcain@unimelb.edu.au

Emily Caruso
Tel: 61 3 9929 8113
Email: emily.caruso@unimelb.edu.au

Lions Eye Institute

Nedlands, Australia
Ian Constable, MD

Toni Busby
Tel: +61 08 6382 0582
Email: toni.busby@lei.org.au

Diana Bowman
Tel: +61 8 9381 0777
Email: DianaBowman@lei.org.au

Save Sight Institute

Sydney NSW Australia
Mark Gillies, MD, PhD

Antoinette Dezoysa
Tel +61 2 9382 7309
Email: Antoinette.dezoysa@sydney.edu.au

Sharon McKenzie
Tel +61 2 9382 7309
Email: sharon.mckenzie@sydney.edu.au


Radboud University Medical Center

Nijmegen, Netherlands

CB Hoyng, MD
Tel: +31 (0)24 36 15255
Email: trialcentrum.ohk@radboudumc.nl

Asha Kalisingh
Tel: + 0243613212
Email: asha.kalisingh@radboudumc.nl

Eramus Medical Center

Rotterdam, Netherlands
J. Vingerling, MD

Annelies Hameete
Email: a.vietje-hameete@erasmusmc.nl