Retinal nerve fibre layer thinning in patients with clinically isolated optic neuritis and early treatment with interferon-beta

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51645. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051645. Epub 2012 Dec 13.


Background: Optic neuritis is associated with neurodegeneration leading to chronic impairment of visual functions.

Objective: This study investigated whether early treatment with interferon beta (IFN-β) slows retinal nerve fibre layer (RNFL) thinning in clinically isolated optic neuritis.

Methods: Twenty patients with optic neuritis and visual acuity decreased to ≤0.5 (decimal system) were included into this prospective, open-label, parallel group 4-month observation. After methylprednisolone pulse therapy, 10 patients received IFN-β from week 2 onwards. This group was compared to 10 patients free of any disease modifying treatment (DMT). The parameter of interest was change in RNFL thickness assessed at baseline and at weeks 4, 8, and 16. Changes in visual acuity, visual field, and visual evoked potentials (VEPs) served as additional outcome parameters.

Results: RNFL thinning did not differ between the groups with a mean reduction of 9.80±2.80 µm in IFN-β-treated patients (±SD) vs. 12.44±5.79 µm in patients who did not receive DMT (baseline non-affected eye minus affected eye at week 16; p = 0.67, t-test, 95% confidence interval: -15.77 to 10.48). Parameters of visual function did not show any differences between the groups either.

Conclusions: In isolated optic neuritis, early IFN-β treatment did not influence RNFL thinning nor had it any effect on recovery of visual functions.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-beta / metabolism
  • Interferon-beta / therapeutic use*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Methylprednisolone / pharmacology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Degeneration
  • Nerve Fibers / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy
  • Optic Nerve / pathology
  • Optic Neuritis / drug therapy
  • Optic Neuritis / physiopathology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Interferon-beta
  • Methylprednisolone

Grant support

This study was supported by research grants from Bayer Healthcare, Leverkusen, Germany, and Merck Serono GmbH, Darmstadt. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.