The neuropathology, pathophysiology and genetics of multiple system atrophy


Janice L. Holton, Department of Molecular Neuroscience, UCL Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK. Tel: +44 020 3448 4239; Fax: +44 020 3448 4486; E-mail:


Z. Ahmed, Y. T. Asi, A. Sailer, A. J. Lees, H. Houlden, T. Revesz and J. L. Holton (2012) Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology38, 4–24

The neuropathology, pathophysiology and genetics of multiple system atrophy

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is an unrelenting, sporadic, adult-onset, neurodegenerative disease of unknown aetiology. Its clinically progressive course is characterized by a variable combination of parkinsonism, cerebellar ataxia and/or autonomic dysfunction. Neuropathological examination often reveals gross abnormalities of the striatonigral and/or olivopontocerebellar systems, which upon microscopic examination are associated with severe neuronal loss, gliosis, myelin pallor and axonal degeneration. MSA is a member of a diverse group of neurodegenerative disorders termed α-synucleinopathies, due to the presence of abnormal α-synuclein positive cytoplasmic inclusions in oligodendrocytes, termed glial cytoplasmic inclusions. These are the hallmark neuropathological lesion of MSA and are thought to play a central role in the pathogenesis of the disease. In this review, neuropathological features of MSA are described in detail, along with recent advances in the pathophysiology and genetics of the disease. Our current knowledge of the expression and accumulation of α-synuclein, and efforts to model the disease in vitro and in vivo, are emphasized in this paper and have helped formulate a working hypothesis for the pathogenesis of MSA.