Retinal nerve fiber layer axonal loss and visual dysfunction in optic neuritis

Ann Neurol. 2005 Sep;58(3):383-91. doi: 10.1002/ana.20575.


Axonal loss is thought to be a likely cause of persistent disability after a multiple sclerosis relapse; therefore, noninvasive in vivo markers specific for axonal loss are needed. We used optic neuritis as a model of multiple sclerosis relapse to quantify axonal loss of the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) and secondary retinal ganglion cell loss in the macula with optical coherence tomography. We studied 25 patients who had a previous single episode of optic neuritis with a recruitment bias to those with incomplete recovery and 15 control subjects. Optical coherence tomography measurement of RNFL thickness and macular volume, quantitative visual testing, and electrophysiological examination were performed. There were highly significant reductions (p < 0.001) of RNFL thickness and macular volume in affected patient eyes compared with control eyes and clinically unaffected fellow eyes. There were significant relationships among RNFL thickness and visual acuity, visual field, color vision, and visual-evoked potential amplitude. This study has demonstrated functionally relevant changes indicative of axonal loss and retinal ganglion cell loss in the RNFL and macula, respectively, after optic neuritis. This noninvasive RNFL imaging technique could be used in trials of experimental treatments that aim to protect optic nerves from axonal loss.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology*
  • Optic Neuritis / pathology
  • Optic Neuritis / physiopathology*
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence
  • Vision Disorders / pathology
  • Vision Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Visual Acuity / physiology