Diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DT-MRI) provides in vivo information about the pathology of multiple sclerosis lesions. Increases in mean diffusivity (MD) and reductions in fractional anisotropy (FA) have been found and may represent axonal disruption. The optic nerve is an ideal structure for study by DT-MRI but previous clinical studies did not obtain the full diffusion tensor necessary to calculate MD and FA. In this study, a technique that was specifically developed to achieve full diffusion tensor measurements from the optic nerve (zonal oblique multislice (ZOOM) echoplanar imaging) was applied to 25 patients with a single unilateral episode of optic neuritis at least one year previously, and 15 controls. The intraorbital nerves were segmented on non-diffusion-weighted images and the regions of interest transferred to MD, FA, and eigenvalue maps to obtain quantitative data. Quantitative visual testing and electrophysiology were also performed. In affected nerves, mean MD and mean orthogonal eigenvalue lambda( perpendicular) were elevated, and mean FA reduced compared with clinically unaffected contralateral nerves (P < 0.001) and control nerves (P < 0.001). The mean principal eigenvalue lambda\\ was significantly increased in affected nerves compared to contralateral unaffected nerves (P = 0.04) but not compared to control nerves (P = 0.13). There was no association of clinical measures of visual function in affected eyes with the DT-MRI parameters but there was a significant correlation of the whole field visual evoked potential (VEP) amplitude with MD (r = -0.57, P = 0.006) and lambda( perpendicular) (r = -0.56, P = 0.007). These findings suggest that optic nerve DT-MRI measures provide an indication of the structural integrity of axons.