Evidence for the tenuous regulation between the immune system and central nervous
system (CNS) can be found with examples of interaction between these organ systems gone awry.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the prototypical inflammatory disease of the CNS and is characterized by
widely distributed inflammatory demyelinating plaques that can involve the brain, spinal cord and/or
optic nerves. Optic neuritis (ON), inflammatory injury of the optic nerve that frequently occurs in
patients with MS, has been the focus of intense study in part given the readily accessible nature of
clinical outcome measures. Exploring the clinical and pathological features of ON in relation to other inflammatory
demyelinating conditions of the CNS, namely MS and neuromyelitis optica, provides an opportunity to glean common and
distinct mechanisms of disease. Emerging data from clinical studies along with various animal models involving ON
implicate innate and adaptive immune responses directed at glial targets, including myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein
and aquaporin 4. Resolution of inflammation in ON is commonly observed both clinically and experimentally, but
persistent nerve injury is also one emerging hallmark of ON. One hypothesis seeking evaluation is that, in comparison to
other sites targeted in MS, the optic nerve is a highly specialized target within the CNS predisposing to unique
immunologic processes that generate ON. Overall, ON serves as a highly relevant entity for understanding the
pathogenesis of other CNS demyelinating conditions, most notably MS.