Up to now it is still doubtful whether there is a real risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) after initial monosymptomatic optic neuritis (ON). In this study we evaluated 43 patients with isolated acute-onset ON, in order to demonstrate the presence of oligoclonal bands (OBs) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and any additional clinically silent central nervous system (CNS) lesions. All examinations were performed from 5 days to 4 months (mean 43 days), from the onset of visual disturbances. Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) detected white matter areas with increased signal in 21 patients (49%), while somatosensory and brainstem auditory evoked potentials revealed CNS abnormalities in only 5 patients (12%). OBs were present in the CSF of 20 patients (46%). Visual evoked potentials were abnormal in 39 patients (91%). Seven out of the 37 patients (19%) with at least one year follow-up, (mean duration of the follow-up = 32 months, range = 12-74), developed clinically definite MS (CDMS). All 7 patients had positive brain MRI and 6 had positive CSF examination at the basal evaluation. Our data suggest that MRI and CSF-OBs are the most reliable means of identifying patients with isolated ON who subsequently develop CDMS. They may therefore have a predictive value in defining MS risk.