OMRF scientists find clues to MS-induced vision loss

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A pair of scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation are bringing together their expertise to find new ways to study one of the most prominent symptoms of multiple sclerosis: vision loss.

PHOTO: (Left to right) Dr. Scott Plafker, Ph.D. and Dr. Robert Axtell, Ph.D. Photo provided.

MS is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. The disease attacks myelin, the protective layer that covers nerves and fibers throughout the body. This damages the nervous system’s ability to carry signals to and from the brain, causing a wide range of symptoms that include problems with vision, tremors, paralysis, muscle spasms and more.

For nearly 20 percent of MS patients, vision loss is the first symptom of the disease and often occurs long before an MS diagnosis. This vision loss, called optic neuritis, occurs when the myelin protecting the optic nerve is stripped away, resulting in temporary blindness. This usually occurs in one eye.

“It just happens out of the blue,” said OMRF vision researcher Scott Plafker, Ph.D. “The optic nerve transmits information from your retina to your brain, telling your brain that your eye has seen an image, and your brain then interprets that image and processes it. When that nerve becomes inflamed, that process is interrupted and you lose your vision.”

At some point, more than 50 percent of all MS patients will experience optic neuritis. MS flares cause worsening of this vision loss, but when they resolve, the vision usually comes back. In some cases, though, repeated instances of vision loss can become permanent.

Plafker and OMRF MS researcher Bob Axtell, Ph.D., teamed up to look at how they can help cells in the eye better protect themselves and prevent long-term loss of eyesight in MS.

Read more from OMRF. Photo courtesy of OMRF.

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