Longitudinally extensive optic neuritis as an MRI biomarker distinguishes neuromyelitis optica from multiple sclerosis

Maureen A. Mealy, Anna Whetstone, Gunes Orman, Izlem Izbudak, Peter A. Calabresi, Michael Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Objective To differentiate MRI characteristics of optic neuritis associated with neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Background Optic neuritis is a common presenting feature of both neuromyelitis optica and multiple sclerosis. Distinguishing between NMO and RRMS is important in guiding treatment, but biomarkers of NMO and MS can be absent early in the disease process. We looked for differences in MRI characteristics of optic neuritis associated with NMO and MS that provide an early clue in the diagnostic workup. Design/Methods We conducted a retrospective analysis of 26 NMO and 26 RRMS patients presenting to the Johns Hopkins Hospital with MRI-confirmed acute optic neuritis. MRIs were assessed to identify the location and longitudinal extent of each contrast enhancing lesion. For the purposes of this study, the optic nerve was divided into intraorbital, canalicular, pre-chiasmal, chiasmal, and optic tract. Results There are distinct differences in MRI characteristics between NMO- and RRMS-associated optic neuritis. The majority of NMO lesions were longitudinally extensive measuring at least 17.6 mm in length and involving at least three optic nerve segments. At a cutoff of 17.6 mm lesion length, the specificity for NMO is 76.9% with a sensitivity of 80.8% and positive likelihood ratio of 3.50. Conversely, MS lesions were more commonly focal in one optic nerve segment localized anteriorly. Conclusions Optic neuritis in NMO has a distinct pattern on MRI as compared with RRMS and can help differentiate these two neuroinflammatory diseases at presentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-63
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the Neurological Sciences
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 15 2015


  • Aquaporin-4
  • Bilateral optic neuritis
  • Longitudinally extensive optic neuritis
  • MRI
  • Neuromyelitis optica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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