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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1999 Oct 29;354(1390):1641-7.

Axon damage and repair in multiple sclerosis.

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  • 1Central Nervous System Inflammation Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, UK.


It is well known that within long-standing multiple sclerosis (MS) lesions there is axonal loss but whether it is an early or late event has been more difficult to establish. The use of immunocytochemical methods that reveal axonal end-bulbs is a valuable approach to investigating acute axonal injury in human pathological material. The application of these techniques to multiple sclerosis tissue reveals evidence of axonal injury in acute lesions; the distribution of the end-bulbs in acute and active-chronic lesions is associated with regions of maximal density of infiltrating macrophages. Axon injury within the MS lesion will result in both Wallerian degeneration of the axon and also retrograde degeneration of the cell body. The functional consequences of the axon injury will depend upon numbers of axons injured and the topographical organization of the fibres coursing through the lesion. The molecular mechanisms by which the recruited leucocytes damage or transect the axons are not known. However, investigations in the Wld mutant mouse with very slow Wallerian degeneration demonstrate that axon degeneration is not simply a passive disintegration of the axon but has clear parallels with the active processes of programmed cell death. The presence of early axon injury and the consequences of an ever increasing load of neuronal damage has important implications not only for when therapy should be initiated in MS but also the therapeutic target.

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