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Glia. 2000 Feb 15;29(4):366-75.

Tumour necrosis factor alpha mRNA expression in early multiple sclerosis lesions: correlation with demyelinating activity and oligodendrocyte pathology.

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Klinik und Poliklinik für Neurologie, Abteilung Neurologie, Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen, Germany.


The precise role of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) in multiple sclerosis (MS) is still controversial. Most findings from the animal model experimental allergic encephalomyelitis have yet to be confirmed in multiple sclerosis. The aim of this study was to define the significance of TNFalpha with respect to the hallmark of MS, that is demyelination. Therefore, 78 lesion areas from diagnostic brain biopsies of 32 patients were analysed. Lesion demyelinating activity was classified by the presence of myelin degradation products in macrophages and macrophage activation markers. Non-radioactive in situ hybridisation was carried out to detect TNFalpha mRNA expressing cells. DNA fragmentation was visualised by TdT-mediated X-dUTP nick end labeling. A significantly higher number of cells expressed TNFalpha mRNA in active demyelinating lesions than in inactive or remyelinating lesions irrespective of the extent of the inflammatory infiltrate. TNFalpha mRNA expression correlated with the appearance of DNA fragmentation in T lymphocytes and oligodendrocytes within the lesions. In the periplaque white matter, expression of TNFalpha mRNA negatively correlated with oligodendrocyte numbers. These data support previous findings from animal models and in vitro experiments. Although not proving, the current study strongly suggests a pathogenic role of TNFalpha in demyelination in human multiple sclerosis and gives further support for TNFalpha-directed therapeutic strategies.

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