Neuromyelitis optica and multiple sclerosis: Seeing differences through optical coherence tomography

Mult Scler. 2015 May;21(6):678-88. doi: 10.1177/1352458514567216. Epub 2015 Feb 6.


Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that preferentially targets the optic nerves and spinal cord. The clinical presentation may suggest multiple sclerosis (MS), but a highly specific serum autoantibody against the astrocytic water channel aquaporin-4 present in up to 80% of NMO patients enables distinction from MS. Optic neuritis may occur in either condition resulting in neuro-anatomical retinal changes. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) has become a useful tool for analyzing retinal damage both in MS and NMO. Numerous studies showed that optic neuritis in NMO typically results in more severe retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) and ganglion cell layer thinning and more frequent development of microcystic macular edema than in MS. Furthermore, while patients' RNFL thinning also occurs in the absence of optic neuritis in MS, subclinical damage seems to be rare in NMO. Thus, OCT might be useful in differentiating NMO from MS and serve as an outcome parameter in clinical studies.

Keywords: Neuromyelitis optica; ganglion cell layer; multiple sclerosis; optic neuritis; optical coherence tomography; retinal nerve fiber layer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / diagnosis*
  • Optic Neuritis / diagnosis*
  • Retinal Neurons / ultrastructure*
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence / methods*