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Monitoring retinal changes with optical coherence tomography predicts neuronal loss in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis

Cruz-Herranz, A;Dietrich, M;Hilla, AM;Yiu, HH;Levin, MH;Hecker, C;Issberner, A;Hallenberger, A;Cordano, C;Lehmann-Horn, K;Balk, LJ;Aktas, O;Ingwersen, J;von Gall, C;Hartung, HP;Zamvil, SS;Fischer, D;Albrecht, P;Green, AJ;

Retinal optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a clinical and research tool in multiple sclerosis, where it has shown significant retinal nerve fiber (RNFL) and ganglion cell (RGC) layer thinning, while postmortem studies have reported RGC loss. Although retinal pathology in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) has been described, comparative OCT studies among EAE models are scarce. Furthermore, the best practices for the implementation of OCT in the EAE lab, especially with afoveate animals like rodents, remain undefined. We aimed to describe the dynamics of retinal injury in different mouse EAE models and outline the optimal experimental conditions, scan protocols, and analysis methods, comparing these to histology to confirm the pathological underpinnings. Using spectral-domain OCT, we analyzed the test-retest and the inter-rater reliability of volume, peripapillary, and combined horizontal and vertical line scans. We then monitored the thickness of the retinal layers in different EAE models: in wild-type (WT) C57Bl/6J mice immunized with myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein peptide (MOG35-55) or with bovine myelin basic protein (MBP), in TCR2D2 mice immunized with MOG35-55, and in SJL/J mice immunized with myelin proteolipid lipoprotein (PLP139-151). Strain-matched control mice were sham-immunized. RGC density was counted on retinal flatmounts at the end of each experiment. Volume scans centered on the optic disc showed the best reliability. Retinal changes during EAE were localized in the inner retinal layers (IRLs, the combination of the RNFL and the ganglion cell plus the inner plexiform layers). In WT, MOG35-55 EAE, progressive thinning of IRL started rapidly after EAE onset, with 1/3 of total loss occurring during the initial 2months. IRL thinning was associated with the degree of RGC loss and the severity of EAE. Sham-immunized SJL/J mice showed progressive IRL atrophy, which was accentuated in PLP-immunized mice. MOG35-55-immunized TCR2D2 mice showed severe EAE and retinal thinning. MBP immunization led to very mild disease without significant retinopathy. Retinal neuroaxonal damage develops quickly during EAE. Changes in retinal thickness mirror neuronal loss and clinical severity. Monitoring of the IRL thickness after immunization against MOG35-55 in C57Bl/6J mice seems the most convenient model to study retinal neurodegeneration in EAE.