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Optic pathway gliomas (OPGs) are present in 20% of children with neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1) but are less frequently observed in adults. Our goal was to determine the natural history of OPGs in children and adults with NF1.
We analyzed the features of OPGs and other intracranial lesions on 1775 head MRI scans of 562 unselected adults and children with NF1 collected between 2003 and 2015. 52 (9.3%) of 562 patients in this study had an OPG diagnosed on their MRI. The median age at first scan with an OPG present was 12.7 years. Of the 52 OPG patients, the intraorbital optic nerves were affected in 29 patients (56%), the prechiasmatic optic nerves were affected in 32 patients (62%), the optic chiasm was affected in 17 patients (33%) and the optic radiations were affected in 19 patients (37%). 29 patients had two or more areas affected. One patient had a newly-appearing OPG, and 1 patient showed progression. The rate of progression over 5 years was 2.4% (95% CI: 0.4% to 16%). Four patients showed partial regression of their OPGs, but we observed no case of complete regression during this study. The rate of regression over 5 years was 8.9% (95% confidence intervals: 2.8% to 26%). We found the presence of UBOs and the presence of OPGs in individual patients to be highly associated (p = 0.0061).
OPGs are more common in older adults with NF1 than previously thought. The occurrences of unidentified bright objects (UBOs) and asymptomatic OPGs are associated with each other. This suggests the possibility that OPGs that remain asymptomatic may differ pathogenically from those that become symptomatic.