Association of retinal and macular damage with brain atrophy in multiple sclerosis

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 8;6(4):e18132. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018132.


Neuroaxonal degeneration in the central nervous system contributes substantially to the long term disability in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. However, in vivo determination and monitoring of neurodegeneration remain difficult. As the widely used MRI-based approaches, including the brain parenchymal fraction (BPF) have some limitations, complementary in vivo measures for neurodegeneration are necessary. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a potent tool for the detection of MS-related retinal neurodegeneration. However, crucial aspects including the association between OCT- and MRI-based atrophy measures or the impact of MS-related parameters on OCT parameters are still unclear. In this large prospective cross-sectional study on 104 relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) patients we evaluated the associations of retinal nerve fiber layer thickness (RNFLT) and total macular volume (TMV) with BPF and addressed the impact of disease-determining parameters on RNFLT, TMV or BPF. BPF, normalized for subject head size, was estimated with SIENAX. Relations were analyzed primarily by Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) models considering within-patient inter-eye relations. We found that both RNFLT (p = 0.019, GEE) and TMV (p = 0.004, GEE) associate with BPF. RNFLT was furthermore linked to the disease duration (p<0.001, GEE) but neither to disease severity nor patients' age. Contrarily, BPF was rather associated with severity (p<0.001, GEE) than disease duration and was confounded by age (p<0.001, GEE). TMV was not associated with any of these parameters. Thus, we conclude that in RRMS patients with relatively short disease duration and rather mild disability RNFLT and TMV reflect brain atrophy and are thus promising parameters to evaluate neurodegeneration in MS. Furthermore, our data suggest that RNFLT and BPF reflect different aspects of MS. Whereas BPF best reflects disease severity, RNFLT might be the better parameter for monitoring axonal damage longitudinally. Longitudinal studies are necessary for validation of data and to further clarify the relevance of TMV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / pathology
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macula Lutea / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology
  • Organ Size
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence
  • Young Adult