MS is considered to be a disease characterised by two different processes: inflammation and neurodegeneration (loss of nerve cells) and consequent brain or spinal cord atrophy (shrinking).

Although magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is regarded as the best imaging method for monitoring MS, the association between MRI measures of inflammation and disability progression in MS is modest.

While MRI measures of neurodegeneration correlate better with disability progression, MRI techniques used to measure neurodegeneration are not very sensitive. Therefore, the development of new techniques is very important.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a scan that measures the thickness of the nerve fibres in the retina at the back of the eye. Unlike nerve cells in the rest of the brain, which are covered with protective myelin, the nerve cells in the retina are bare with no myelin coat. OCT is able to capture and measure atrophy (thinning) of the optic nerve, common in MS.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, USA, followed 107 people with MS for four years, using OCT and MRI to determine whether atrophy of specific retinal layers and brain substructures are associated over time, in order to further validate the use of OCT as an indicator of neuronal damage.

The results of this study indicate that atrophy of specific retinal layers and brain substructures in MS are closely associated over time, particularly in progressive MS, thereby reflecting underlying disease progression.

This suggests a role for OCT as a valuable biomarker (an indicator) for clinical monitoring of people with MS, as well as in clinical trials for therapies for neuroprotection or repair.

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