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Optical coherence tomography can measure axonal loss in patients with ethambutol-induced optic neuropathy.

PURPOSE: To map and identify the pattern, in vivo, of axonal degeneration in ethambutol-induced optic neuropathy using optical coherence tomography (OCT). Ethambutol is an antimycobacterial agent often used to treat tuberculosis. A serious complication of ethambutol is an optic neuropathy that impairs visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and color vision. However, early on, when the toxic optic neuropathy is mild and partly reversible, the funduscopic findings are often subtle and easy to miss.

METHODS: Three subjects with a history of ethambutol (EMB)-induced optic neuropathy of short-, intermediate-, and long-term visual deficits were administered a full neuro-ophthalmologic examination including visual acuity, color vision, contrast sensitivity, and fundus examination. In addition, OCT (OCT 3000, Humphrey-Zeiss, Dublin, CA) was performed on both eyes of each subject using the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) analysis protocol. OCT interpolates data from 100 points around the optic nerve to effectively map out the RNFL.

RESULTS: The results were compared to the calculated average RNFL of normal eyes accumulated from four prior studies using OCT, n=661. In all subjects with history of EMB-induced optic neuropathy, there was a mean loss of 72% nerve fiber layer thickness in the temporal quadrant (patient A, with eventual recovery of visual acuity and fields, 58% loss; patient B, with intermediate visual deficits, 68% loss; patient C, with chronic visual deficits, 90% loss), with an average mean optic nerve thickness of 26+/-16 microm. There was a combined mean loss of 46% of fibers from the superior, inferior, and nasal quadrants in the (six) eyes of all three subjects (mean average thickness of 55+/-29 microm). In both sets (four) of eyes of the subjects with persistent visual deficits (patients B and C), there was an average loss of 79% of nerve fiber thickness in the temporal quadrant.

CONCLUSIONS: The OCT results in these patients with EMB-induced optic neuropathy show considerable loss especially of the temporal fibers. This is consistent with prior histopathological studies that show predominant loss of parvo-cellular axons (or small-caliber axons) within the papillo-macular bundle in toxic or hereditary optic neuropathies. OCT can be a valuable tool in the quantitative analysis of optic neuropathies. Additionally, in terms of management of EMB-induced optic neuropathy, it is important to properly manage ethambutol dosing in patients with renal impairment and to achieve proper transition to a maintenance dose once an appropriate loading dose has been reached.

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