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Neurology. 2010 Oct 12;75(15):1318-25. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181f735bd. Epub 2010 Sep 1.

Associations between retinal nerve fiber layer abnormalities and optic nerve examination.

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Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.



Retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) abnormalities detected by optical coherence tomography (OCT) are useful markers for axonal loss and visual dysfunction in multiple sclerosis (MS), but their role in routine clinical management is not well-studied.


Clinical and OCT examinations were performed on 240 patients attending a neurology clinic. Using OCT 5th percentile to define abnormal RNFL thickness, we compared eyes classified by neurologists as having optic atrophy to RNFL thickness, and afferent pupillary defect (APD) to RNFL thickness ratios of eye pairs.


Mean RNFL thickness was less in eyes classified by neurologists as having optic atrophy (79.4 ± 21 μm; n=63) vs those without (97.0 ± 15 μm; n=417; p < 0.001, t test) and in eyes with an APD (84.1 ± 16 μm; n=44) than without an APD (95.8 ± 17 μm; n=436; p < 0.001). Physicians' diagnostic accuracy for detecting pallor in eyes with an abnormal RNFL thickness was 79% (sensitivity=0.56; specificity=0.82). Accuracy for detecting a RAPD in patients with mean RNFL ratio (affected eye to unaffected eye) <0.90 was 73% (sensitivity=0.30; specificity=0.86). Ability to detect visual pathway injury via assessment of atrophy and APD differed between neurologists.


OCT reveals RNFL abnormality in many patients in whom eyes are not classified by neurologic examiners as having optic atrophy. Further study is needed to define the role of OCT measures in the context of examinations for optic atrophy and APD by neuroophthalmologists. OCT-measured RNFL thickness is likely to have an important future role in the clinical setting.

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