by Kuchling J, Brandt AU, Paul F, Scheel M.
The afferent visual pathway represents the most frequently affected white matter pathway in multiple sclerosis (MS) and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders (NMOSD). Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) can reveal microstructural or non-overt brain tissue damage and quantify pathological processes. DTI facilitates the reconstruction of major white matter fiber tracts allowing for the assessment of structure-function and damage-dysfunction relationships. In this review, we outline DTI studies investigating the afferent visual pathway in idiopathic optic neuritis (ON), NMOSD, and MS. Since MS damage patterns are believed to depend on multiple factors, i.e., ON (anterior visual pathway damage), inflammatory lesions (posterior visual pathway damage), and global diffuse inflammatory and neurodegenerative processes, comprehensive knowledge on different contributing factors using DTI in vivo may advance our understanding of MS disease pathology. Combination of DTI measures and visual outcome parameters yields the potential to improve routine clinical diagnostic procedures and may further the accuracy of individual prognosis with regard to visual function and personalized disease outcome. However, due to the inherent limitations of DTI acquisition and post-processing techniques and the so far heterogeneous and equivocal data of previous studies, evaluation of the true potential of DTI as a possible biomarker for afferent visual pathway dysfunction is still substantially limited. Further research efforts with larger longitudinal studies and standardized DTI acquisition and post-processing validation criteria are needed to overcome current DTI limitations. DTI evaluation at different levels of the visual pathway has the potential to provide markers for individual damage evaluation in the future. As an imaging biomarker, DTI may support individual outcome prediction during personalized treatment algorithms in MS and other neuroinflammatory diseases, hereby leveraging the concept of predictive, preventive, and personalized medicine in the field of clinical neuroimmunology.