Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a new method that could aid analysis of neurodegeneration in multiple sclerosis (MS) by capturing thinning of the retinal nerve fibre layer (RNFL). Meta-analyses of data for time domain OCT show RNFL thinning of 20.38 microm (95% CI 17.91-22.86, n=2063, p<0.0001) after optic neuritis in MS, and of 7.08 microm (5.52-8.65, n=3154, p<0.0001) in MS without optic neuritis. The estimated RNFL thinning in patients with MS is greater than the extent expected in normal ageing, probably because of retrograde trans-synaptic degeneration and progressive loss of retinal ganglion cells, in addition to the more pronounced thinning caused by optic neuritis if present. RNFL thickness correlates with visual and neurological functioning as well as with paraclinical data. Developments that could improve understanding of the relation between structure and function in MS pathophysiology include spectral or Fourier domain OCT technology, polarisation-sensitive OCT, fluorescence labelling, structural assessment of action-potential propagation, and segmentation algorithms allowing quantitative assessment of retinal layers.
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