Histopathologic studies of ischemic optic neuropathy

D. L. Knox, J. B. Kerrison, W. R. Green, Jr Eagle, A. A. Sadun, G. A. Cioffi, P. R. Lichter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: To define the histopathologic features of eyes in which a pathologic diagnosis of ischemic optic neuropathy had been made in the years 1951 through 1998. Methods: The following data were documented: age of patient, race, sex, source of tissue, cause of death, clinical history, interval from loss of vision to death, enucleation, exenteration, and biopsy. The histopathologic criteria for diagnosis of ischemic optic neuropathy were the presence of localized ischemic edema, cavernous degeneration, or an area of atrophy located superior or inferior in the optic nerve. Cases with history of abrupt loss of vision were combined with reports from the literature to construct a time table of histopathologic features and associated conditions. Results: Ischemic optic neuropathy was present in 193 eyes. There were 88 females and 65 males. The average age was 71.6 years. Ischemic edema without (early) and with (later) gitter macrophages was present in 26 (13.5%). Cavernous degeneration was present in 69 nerves (36%). Mucopolysaccharide (MPS) was present in 37 cavernous lesions 1 month or longer after loss of vision. Cavernous lesions were seen in 3 eyes in which peripapillary retinal nerve fiber layer hemorrhage had been observed prior to death. Atrophic lesions, the most common pattern, were observed in 133 optic nerves (66.8%). More than 1 ischemic lesion was seen in 38 optic nerves (19.7%). Bilateral ischemic lesions were seen in 50 (35.2%) of 142 paired eyes. Conclusions: Ischemic optic nerve lesions are initially acellular and later show macrophage infiltration. Cavernous lesions with MPS are present 4 weeks or longer after vision loss. The location of MPS posteriorly and along the internal margin suggests that MPS is produced at the edges of lesions. Progressive vision loss in ischemic optic neuropathy may be secondary to compression of intact nerve from ischemic edema and cavernous swelling, or a second ischemic lesion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-222
Number of pages20
JournalTransactions of the American Ophthalmological Society
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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