Evaluation of the retinal nerve fiber layer

Surv Ophthalmol. 1996 Mar-Apr;40(5):369-78. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6257(96)80065-8.


In normal eyes, the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) is usually best visible in the inferior temporal part of the fundus, followed by the superior temporal region, the nasal superior region and the nasal inferior region. This distribution correlates with the configuration of the neuroretinal rim, the diameter of the retinal arterioles, the location of the foveola, and the lamina cribrosa morphology. With increasing age, the RNFL visibility decreases diffusely without preferring special fundus regions and without the development of localized defects. With all optic nerve diseases, the visibility of the RNFL is decreased in addition to the age-related loss, in a diffuse and/or a localized manner. The localized defects are wedge-shaped and not spindle-like defects, running toward or touching the optic disk border. Typically occurring in about 20% of all glaucoma eyes, they can be found also in other ocular diseases, such as optic disk drusen, toxoplasmotic retinochoroidal scars, longstanding papilledema or optic neuritis due to multiple sclerosis. Since they are not present in normal eyes, they almost always signify an abnormality. RNFL evaluation is especially helpful for early glaucoma diagnosis and in glaucoma eyes with small optic disks. In advanced optic nerve atrophy, other examination techniques, such as perimetry, may be more helpful for following optic nerve damage. Considering its great importance in the assessment of optic nerve anomalies and diseases and taking into account the feasibility of its ophthalmoscopic evaluation using green light, the retinal nerve fiber layer should be examined during any routine ophthalmoscopy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fundus Oculi
  • Humans
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology*
  • Optic Nerve / pathology*
  • Optic Nerve Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Optic Nerve Diseases / etiology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology*