Primary loss and dysfunction of astrocytes may trigger demyelination, as seen in neuromyelitis optica, an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. In most patients affected by this disease, injury to astrocytes is initiated by the action of autoantibodies targeting aquaporin 4 (AQP-4), a water channel on astrocytes. We show here
that damage of astrocytes and subsequent demyelination can also occur in the absence of autoantibody-mediated mechanisms. Following injection of lipopolysaccharide into the white matter initial microglia activation is followed by a functional disturbance of astrocytes, mainly reflected by
retraction of astrocytic foot processes at the glia limitans and loss of AQP-4 and connexins, which are involved in the formation of gap junctions between astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Demyelination and oligodendrocyte degeneration in this model follows astrocyte pathology.
Similar structural abnormalities were also seen in a subset of active lesions in multiple sclerosis. Our studies suggest that astrocyte injury may be an important early step in the cascade of lesion formation in brain inflammation.
Mult Scler. 2010 Sep 7. [Epub ahead of print]
Neuromyelitis optica: a demyelinating disease characterized by acute destruction and regeneration of perivascular astrocytes.
Parratt JD, Prineas JW.
The Institute of Clinical Neurosciences, Department of Medicine, The University of Sydney/The Brain & Mind Research Inst., University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Background: A serum antibody directed against astrocytes is present in a high proportion of patients with neuromyelitis optica (NMO). The pathogenicity of the antibody is uncertain because no consistent astrocyte lesion is known to occur in NMO.
Objective: To determine whether there is an astrocyte lesion in NMO and if this differs from astrocyte changes in multiple sclerosis (MS).
Methods: Astrocyte pathology in early (still-myelinated) lesions and subacute NMO and MS lesions was examined immunohistochemically and in sections stained for astrocytes using routine histological techniques.
Results: Demyelination in early NMO lesions is accompanied by oligodendrocyte apoptosis in a pattern identical to that seen in MS and this is preceded by an abrupt destruction of perivascular astrocytes. Reparative astrogliosis is effected by a population of unipolar, new astrocytes. Evidence of a different type of astrocyte lesion was found in MS.
Discussion: The findings add to experimental evidence that the antibody is pathogenic. They also raise the possibility that demyelination in MS may be a bystander effect of an astrocyte lesion, i.e. that MS is not a disease primarily of myelin and oligodendrocytes.
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