Background: The definitive diagnosis of glaucoma is currently based on congruent damage to both optic nerve structure and function. Given widespread quantitative assessment of both structure (imaging) and function (automated perimetry) in glaucoma, it should be possible to combine these quantitative data to diagnose disease. We have therefore defined and tested a new approach to glaucoma diagnosis by combining imaging and visual field data, using the anatomical organization of retinal ganglion cells. Methods. Data from 1499 eyes of glaucoma suspects and 895 eyes with glaucoma were identified at a single glaucoma center. Each underwent Heidelberg Retinal Tomograph (HRT) imaging and standard automated perimetry. A new measure combining these two tests, the structure function index (SFI), was defined in 3 steps: 1) calculate the probability that each visual field point is abnormal, 2) calculate the probability of abnormality for each of the six HRT optic disc sectors, and 3) combine those probabilities with the probability that a field point and disc sector are linked by ganglion cell anatomy. The SFI was compared to the HRT and visual field using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis. Results: The SFI produced an area under the ROC curve (0.78) that was similar to that for both visual field mean deviation (0.78) and pattern standard deviation (0.80) and larger than that for a normalized measure of HRT rim area (0.66). The cases classified as glaucoma by the various tests were significantly non-overlapping. Based on the distribution of test values in the population with mild disease, the SFI may be better able to stratify this group while still clearly identifying those with severe disease. Conclusions: The SFI reflects the traditional clinical diagnosis of glaucoma by combining optic nerve structure and function. In doing so, it identifies a different subset of patients than either visual field testing or optic nerve head imaging alone. Analysis of prospective data will allow us to determine whether the combined index of structure and function can provide an improved standard for glaucoma diagnosis.
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