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Brain. 2005 Jan;128(Pt 1):35-41. Epub 2004 Oct 13.

Neuropathology of white matter disease in Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy.

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  • 1National Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, H-1021 Budapest, Hüvösvölgyi út 116, Hungary.


Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is associated with point mutations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), coding for a mitochondrial respiratory chain complex I subunit. It is characterized by bilateral, usually sequential, optic neuropathy and may co-occur with multiple sclerosis-like white matter lesions. Despite repeated clinical reports including MRI and histopathological examination of the visual system, neuropathological descriptions of LHON associated with multiple sclerosis-like syndrome are lacking. We present here the case of a female patient with a point mutation at nucleotide position T14484C, who suffered from relapsing episodes of visual loss of both eyes and consecutively developed Hashimoto thyroiditis as well as widespread demyelinating CNS lesions outside the visual system. She died of bronchopneumonia at the age of 44 years, after a disease duration of 19 years, with progressive deterioration, epileptic seizures and immobility. Immunohistochemical analysis on formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tissue reveals a spectrum of neuropathological changes, including actively and inactively demyelinating plaques in the white matter and optic nerve, vacuolation and cystic necrosis with CD8-positive T cells in the frontal lobe, axonal damage, and vacuolation of white matter. Tissue destruction is associated with upregulation of mitochondrial manganese superoxide dismutase within the lesions and an increase in the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase within macrophages and microglia. This variable phenotype of extraoptic LHON disease suggests that mtDNA mutations may affect the nervous system on a common metabolic basis and occasionally may aggravate or initiate autoimmune pathology.

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