The optic neuritis of 21 children aged between four and 14 years generally was characterized by bilateral involvement (62 per cent) and papillitis (76 per cent). Often acute infections or vaccinations were preceding events. Frequently there was pleocytosis during the disease process, with production of IgG, oligoclonal and viral antibodies, which increased during follow-up. Nine of these children (eight female) later developed multiple sclerosis, with unilateral involvement of the optic nerves and HLA Dr2 positivity. Disseminated effects on the central nervous system were similar to those of adults with multiple sclerosis. In all cases these relapses occurred within one year of the optic neuritis. EEGs did not differentiate those who developed multiple sclerosis from those who did not, but four of five patients with multiple sclerosis who were followed-up for a year or more had paroxysmal discharges, and one of the four had manifest epilepsy. Magnetic resonance imaging, visual and sensory evoked potentials and CSF studies were helpful in diagnosing multiple sclerosis. The visual prognosis was good in most cases. 17 children had no or only slight neurological disability at the end of follow-up; the other four had moderate to severe disability. This study suggests that optic neuritis is a diffuse disease, not merely affecting the optic nerves, and that the immunological events typical of multiple sclerosis can start in childhood.
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