Aim: To examine the relationship between retinal ganglion cell loss and changes in the inner nuclear layer (INL) in optic neuritis (ON).
Methods: 36 multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with a history of ON and 36 age and sex-matched controls underwent Optical Coherence Tomography. The paramacular retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL), combined ganglion cell and inner plexiform layers (GCL/IPL) and inner nuclear layer (INL) thickness were measured at 36 points around the fovea. To remove inter-subject variability, the difference in thickness of each layer between the ON and fellow eye of each patient was calculated. A topographic analysis was conducted.
Results: The INL of the ON patients was thicker than the controls (42.9μm versus 39.6μm, p=0.002). ON patients also had a thinner RNFL (27.8μm versus 32.2μm, p<0.001) and GCL/IPL (69.3μm versus 98.1μm, p<0.001). Among the controls, there was no correlation between RNFL and GCL/IPL as well as RNFL and INL, but a positive correlation was seen between GCL/IPL and INL (r=0.65, p<0.001). In the ON group, there was a positive correlation between RNFL and GCL/IPL (r=0.80, p<0.001) but a negative correlation between RNFL and INL (r=-0.61, p<0.001) as well as GCL/IPL and INL (r=-0.44, p=0.007). The negative correlation between GCL/IPL and INL strengthened in the ON group when inter-subject variability was removed (r=-0.75, p<0.001). Microcysts within the INL were present in 5 ON patients, mainly in the superior and infero-nasal paramacular regions. While patients with microcysts lay at the far end of the correlation curve between GCL/IPL and INL (i.e. larger INL and smaller GCL/IPL compared to other patients), their exclusion did not affect the correlation (r= -0.76, p<0.001).
Conclusions: INL enlargement in MS-related ON is associated with the severity of GCL loss. This is a continuous relationship and patients with INL microcysts may represent the extreme end of the scale.