, Volume 252, Issue 5 Supplement, pp v3-v9

The pathology of multiple sclerosis is the result of focal inflammatory demyelination with axonal damage

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Abstract

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory demyelinating disease of the central nervous system manifested morphologically by inflammation, demyelination, axonal loss and gliosis. The inflammatory lesions are characterized by massive infiltration by a heterogeneous population of cellular and soluble mediators of the immune system, including T cells, B cells, macrophages and mi croglia, as well as a broad range of cytokines, chemokines, antibodies, complement and other toxic substances. The appearance of such lesions is associated with clinical relapses. Recent detailed immunopathological studies of early, acute lesions revealed profound heterogeneity in the patterns of demyelination and the factors of the immune system involved. During remission, resolution of inflammation is the main factor which leads to clinical improvement of patients. However, the immune system can play a beneficial role at this stage, promoting remyelination perhaps by production of growth factors such as BDNF. In contrast, the progressive irreversible neurological deficit in multiple sclerosis is associated with neurodegenerative processes resulting in axonal and neuronal loss. The mechanisms behind damage to axons in multiple sclerosis lesions are poorly understood. However, the close proximity of areas with prominent axonal loss and areas containing inflammatory infiltrates (e. g., T cells, macrophages) suggest that axonal damage is closely associated with inflammation. Different soluble or cellular mediators of the immune response have been shown to damage axons in experimental systems, and these may be responsible for neurodegeneration in human disease.