Ganglion cell loss in relation to visual disability in multiple sclerosis

Ophthalmology. 2012 Jun;119(6):1250-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2011.11.032. Epub 2012 Feb 23.


Purpose: We used high-resolution spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) with retinal segmentation to determine how ganglion cell loss relates to history of acute optic neuritis (ON), retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) thinning, visual function, and vision-related quality of life (QOL) in multiple sclerosis (MS).

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Participants: A convenience sample of patients with MS (n = 122; 239 eyes) and disease-free controls (n = 31; 61 eyes). Among MS eyes, 87 had a history of ON before enrollment.

Methods: The SD-OCT images were captured using Macular Cube (200×200 or 512×128) and ONH Cube 200×200 protocols. Retinal layer segmentation was performed using algorithms established for glaucoma studies. Thicknesses of the ganglion cell layer/inner plexiform layer (GCL+IPL), RNFL, outer plexiform/inner nuclear layers (OPL+INL), and outer nuclear/photoreceptor layers (ONL+PRL) were measured and compared in MS versus control eyes and MS ON versus non-ON eyes. The relation between changes in macular thickness and visual disability was also examined.

Main outcome measures: The OCT measurements of GCL+IPL and RNFL thickness; high contrast visual acuity (VA); low-contrast letter acuity (LCLA) at 2.5% and 1.25% contrast; on the 25-item National Eye Institute Visual Function Questionnaire (NEI-VFQ-25) and 10-Item Neuro-Ophthalmic Supplement composite score.

Results: Macular RNFL and GCL+IPL were significantly decreased in MS versus control eyes (P<0.001 and P = 0.001) and in MS ON versus non-ON eyes (P<0.001 for both measures). Peripapillary RNFL, macular RNFL, GCL+IPL, and the combination of macular RNFL+GCL+IPL were significantly correlated with VA (P≤0.001), 2.5% LCLA (P<0.001), and 1.25% LCLA (P≤0.001). Among OCT measurements, reductions in GCL+IPL (P<0.001), macular RNFL (P = 0.006), and the combination (macular RNFL+GCL+IPL; P<0.001) were most strongly associated with lower (worse) NEI-VFQ-25 and 10-Item Supplement QOL scores; GCL+IPL thinning was significant even accounting for macular RNFL thickness (P = 0.03 for GCL+IPL, P = 0.39 for macular RNFL).

Conclusions: We demonstrated that GCL+IPL thinning is most significantly correlated with both visual function and vision-specific QOL in MS, and may serve as a useful structural marker of disease. Our findings parallel those of magnetic resonance imaging studies that show gray matter disease is a marker of neurologic disability in MS.

Financial disclosure(s): Proprietary or commercial disclosure may be found after the references.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology*
  • Optic Neuritis / physiopathology*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology*
  • Sickness Impact Profile
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence
  • Vision Disorders / physiopathology
  • Visual Acuity / physiology*