The volume of cortical activation as detected by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the visual cortex has previously been shown to be reduced following optic neuritis (ON). In order to understand the cause of this change, we studied the cortical activation, both the size of the activated area and the signal change following ON, and compared the results with results of neuroophthalmological testing. We studied nine patients with previous acute ON and 10 healthy persons served as controls using fMRI with visual stimulation. In addition to a reduced activated volume, patients showed a reduced blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal increase and a greater asymmetry in the visual cortex, compared with controls. The volume of visual cortical activation was significantly correlated to the result of the contrast sensitivity test. The BOLD signal increase correlated significantly to both the results of the contrast sensitivity test and to the Snellen visual acuity. Our results indicate that fMRI is a useful method for the study of ON, even in cases where the visual acuity is severely impaired. The reduction in activated volume could be explained as a reduced neuronal input; however, the greater asymmetry might point to a cortical reorganization as a consequence of neuronal damage. Future fMRI studies in ON will add to the understanding of the neural adaptive behaviour following ON.