[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Multiple sclerosis is characterized morphologically by the key features demyelination, inflammation, gliosis and axonal damage. In recent years, it has become more evident that axonal damage is the major morphological substrate of permanent clinical disability. In our study, we investigated the occurrence of acute axonal damage determined by immunocytochemistry for amyloid precursor protein (APP) which is produced in neurones and accumulates at sites of recent axon transection or damage. The numbers of APP-positive axons in multiple sclerosis lesions were correlated with the disease duration and course. Most APP-positive axons were detected within the first year after disease onset, but acute axonal damage was also detected to a minor degree in lesions of patients with a disease duration of 10 years and more. This effect was not due to the lack of active demyelinating lesions in the chronic disease stage. Late remyelinated lesions (so-called shadow plaques) did not show signs of axon destruction. The number of inflammatory cells showed a decrease over time similar to that of the number of APP-positive axons. There was a significant correlation between the extent of axon damage and the numbers of CD8-positive cytotoxic T cells and macrophages/microglia. Our results indicate that a putative axon-protective treatment should start as early as possible and include strategies preventing T cell/macrophage-mediated axon destruction and leading to remyelination of axons.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Damage to axons is taken as a key factor of disability in multiple sclerosis, but its pathogenesis is largely unknown. Axonal injury is believed to occur as a consequence of demyelination and was recently shown to be a feature even of the early disease stages. The present study was aimed at characterizing the association of axonal injury and histopathological hallmarks of multiple sclerosis such as demyelination, cellular infiltration and expression of inflammatory mediators. Therefore, axon reduction and signs of acute axonal damage were quantified in early lesion development of chronic multiple sclerosis and correlated with demyelinating activity and inflammation. Patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis revealed the most pronounced axonal injury, whereas primary progressive multiple sclerosis patients surprisingly showed relatively little acute axonal injury. Acute axonal damage, as defined by the accumulation of amyloid precursor protein (APP), was found to occur not only in active demyelinating but also in remyelinating and inactive demyelinated lesions with a large inter-individual variability. Only few remyelinating lesions were adjacent to areas of active demyelination. In this minority of lesions, axonal damage may have originated from the neighbourhood. APP expression in damaged axons correlated with the number of macrophages and CD8-positive T lymphocytes within the lesions, but not with the expression of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) or inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). Axonal injury is therefore, at least in part, independent of demyelinating activity, and its pathogenesis may be different from demyelination. This has major implications for therapeutic strategies, which aim at preventing both demyelination and axonal loss.