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Grey matter pathology in multiple sclerosis


Lars Bö, Department of Pathology (Neuropathology), VU University Medical Center, PO Box 7057, 1007 MB Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 20 4444096
Fax: +31 20 4442964


Although multiple sclerosis (MS) has been considered a white matter disease, MS lesions are known to occur in grey matter. Recent immunohistochemical studies have demonstrated extensive grey matter demyelination in chronic MS. The most common lesion type consists of purely cortical lesions extending inward from the surface of the brain, this lesion subgroup is grossly underestimated by standard histochemical myelin staining methods. Some MS patients have subpial demyelination in all cortical areas of the brain; this pattern has been termed ‘‘general cortical subpial demyelination’’. Extensive cortical demyelination is associated with the progressive phases of disease, as less cortical demyelination has been detected in relapsing-remitting MS. The pathology of grey matter lesions differs from that of white matter lesions; grey matter lesions are less inflammatory, with less macrophage and lymphocyte infiltration. In purely cortical lesions there is no significant increase in lymphocytes compared with non-demyelinated adjacent cortical areas in MS patients or cerebral cortex in control patients. Significant axonal transection and neuronal loss have been demonstrated in grey matter MS lesions. Current magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods are not sensitive for purely cortical MS lesions. The clinical significance of cortical MS lesions may not be characterised until more sensitive MRI methods are developed.