Retinal nerve fiber layer analysis in the diagnosis of glaucoma

Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2006 Apr;17(2):120-31. doi: 10.1097/


Purpose of review: The detection of optic disc and retinal nerve fiber layer damage and change is the cornerstone of glaucoma management. Assessment of the retinal nerve fiber layer for localized and diffuse damage has been traditionally based on clinical examination, with documentation of change primarily qualitative. With the latest improvements in optical imaging instruments, objective and quantitative measurements of the retinal nerve fiber layer are now possible. This review summarizes the results from recent cross-sectional studies evaluating the discriminating ability of automated retinal nerve fiber layer measurements to detect glaucoma, and from longitudinal studies assessing the ability to predict and monitor glaucomatous changes.

Recent findings: Numerous cross-sectional studies have documented good diagnostic accuracy of a scanning laser polarimeter (GDx VCC), the optical coherence tomograph (Stratus), and the Heidelberg Retina Tomograph retinal nerve fiber layer measurements for differentiating between healthy and glaucoma eyes. There are only limited data available on the ability of these retinal nerve fiber layer measurements to document change over time.

Summary: It is essential that the clinician understand the specific strengths and weaknesses of each technique so that only good quality retinal nerve fiber layer information will be used in conjunction with careful clinical examination and visual function testing for glaucoma management decisions. Longitudinal studies are needed to evaluate the ability of these instruments to document retinal nerve fiber layer change over time.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Ophthalmological*
  • Glaucoma / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology*
  • Optic Disk / pathology*
  • Optic Nerve Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology*
  • Vision Disorders / diagnosis
  • Visual Fields