Retina's thickness may be tied to severity of MS, study suggests

October 1, 2012 by Steven Reinberg, Healthday Reporter
Retina's thickness may be tied to severity of MS, study suggests
If true, it might be a useful tool to measure the effectiveness of treatments.

(HealthDay)—Using a high-tech imaging process to measure the thickness of the eye's retina may one day predict the progression of multiple sclerosis, a new study suggests.

The finding might lead to better ways to judge the effectiveness of treatments because different parts of the retina seem to indicate different aspects of the disease and the toll it takes on different , the researchers said.

The report was published online Oct. 1 in the Archives of Neurology.

is thought to be an autoimmune disease that attacks the , which consists of the brain, the and . Symptoms range from mild effects, such as numbness in the limbs, to severe, such as or .

"In treating multiple sclerosis we have been tremendously successful in reducing the number of attacks," said Dr. Ari Green, assistant clinical director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of an accompanying editorial in the journal.

That's the inflammatory part of the disease, Green explained. "We are very successful at treating inflammation in multiple sclerosis. We are less successful in being able to treat or reverse disability," he said.

Methods that help speed up the testing of therapies are needed if progress in treating the disability caused by MS is going to happen, Green said.

And because the retina is part of the central nervous system, it's like a window to the brain and can provide a lot of information about different areas of the brain, he explained.

"If we can figure out how to properly use this imaging [called optical coherence tomography]—perhaps with other tests—for predicting disability in multiple sclerosis, we could accelerate therapies that could make a difference in patients' lives," Green said.

The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye. It switches images to and sends them through the optic nerve to the brain.

For the new study, the researchers looked at the retinas of 84 patients with multiple sclerosis and compared them with 24 healthy people.

"The inner and outer retinal layer thickness, measured by optical coherence tomography, may reflect global and potentially distinct central nervous system processes in multiple sclerosis," said lead researcher Dr. Shiv Saidha, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University.

These findings may not be associated with the condition of the eye, but rather with changes in the brain itself, he said.

"If confirmed, the implications of our study findings are that OCT [ tomography]—a relatively inexpensive, non-invasive, well-tolerated, reproducible and easily repeatable investigation—may be a complementary technique to MRI [magnetic resonance imaging], providing useful information regarding the global aspects of the multiple sclerosis disease process," Saidha said.

The imaging technique may help researchers evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments because their impact might be reflected in changes in the retina, Saidha added.

Green said the technique might also have similar potential for other brain diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

"Everything we have tried to prevent neurodegeneration so far has failed," Green said. "We don't have any treatments in that area that are of proven benefit the way we do in heart disease and cancer. So it's a huge unmet need to treat neurodegenerative disease."

Explore further: Researchers link multiple sclerosis to different area of brain

More information: To learn more about multiple sclerosis, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.


Related Stories

Researchers link multiple sclerosis to different area of brain

December 22, 2011
Radiology researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have found evidence that multiple sclerosis affects an area of the brain that controls cognitive, sensory and motor functioning ...

Sodium buildup in brain linked to disability in multiple sclerosis

July 17, 2012
A buildup of sodium in the brain detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be a biomarker for the degeneration of nerve cells that occurs in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study published ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find monkey brain structure that decides if viewed objects are new or unidentified

August 18, 2017
A team of researchers working at the University of Tokyo School of Medicine has found what they believe is the part of the monkey brain that decides if something that is being viewed is recognizable. In their paper published ...

Study of nervous system cells can help to understand degenerative diseases

August 18, 2017
The results of a new study show that many of the genes expressed by microglia differ between humans and mice, which are frequently used as animal models in research on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

How whip-like cell appendages promote bodily fluid flow

August 18, 2017
Researchers at Nagoya University have identified a molecule that enables cell appendages called cilia to beat in a coordinated way to drive the flow of fluid around the brain; this prevents the accumulation of this fluid, ...

Researchers make surprising discovery about how neurons talk to each other

August 17, 2017
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have uncovered the mechanism by which neurons keep up with the demands of repeatedly sending signals to other neurons. The new findings, made in fruit flies and mice, challenge ...

Neurons involved in learning, memory preservation less stable, more flexible than once thought

August 17, 2017
The human brain has a region of cells responsible for linking sensory cues to actions and behaviors and cataloging the link as a memory. Cells that form these links have been deemed highly stable and fixed.

How we recall the past: Neuroscientists discover a brain circuit dedicated to retrieving memories

August 17, 2017
When we have a new experience, the memory of that event is stored in a neural circuit that connects several parts of the hippocampus and other brain structures. Each cluster of neurons may store different aspects of the memory, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.