Metabolic changes in the visual cortex are linked to retinal nerve fiber layer thinning in multiple sclerosis

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 6;6(4):e18019. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018019.


Objective: To investigate the damage to the retinal nerve fiber layer as part of the anterior visual pathway as well as an impairment of the neuronal and axonal integrity in the visual cortex as part of the posterior visual pathway with complementary neuroimaging techniques, and to correlate our results to patients' clinical symptoms concerning the visual pathway.

Design, subjects and methods: Survey of 86 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis that were subjected to retinal nerve fiber layer thickness (RNFLT) measurement by optical coherence tomography, to a routine MRI scan including the calculation of the brain parenchymal fraction (BPF), and to magnetic resonance spectroscopy at 3 tesla, quantifying N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) concentrations in the visual cortex and normal-appearing white matter.

Results: RNFLT correlated significantly with BPF and visual cortex NAA, but not with normal-appearing white matter NAA. This was connected with the patients' history of a previous optic neuritis. In a combined model, both BPF and visual cortex NAA were independently associated with RNFLT.

Conclusions: Our data suggest the existence of functional pathway-specific damage patterns exceeding global neurodegeneration. They suggest a strong interrelationship between damage to the anterior and the posterior visual pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Demography
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Multiple Sclerosis / metabolism*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Nerve Fibers / metabolism*
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology*
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Visual Cortex / metabolism*
  • Visual Cortex / pathology
  • Young Adult


  • Aspartic Acid
  • N-acetylaspartate