The childhood cerebral form of adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a fatal demyelinating disease, yet mice deficient in the ALD gene do not show such clinicopathological phenotype. We have therefore investigated in human autopsy tissues whether the ALD gene mutation results in apoptosis of CNS cells. Specimens from telencephalic and brainstem regions of four patients, and three controls were examined for internucleosomal DNA fragmentation, in situ detection of DNA breaks by the TUNEL method, and caspase-3 immunostaining. None of the controls showed significant apoptosis in white matter, while apoptotic nuclei with chromatin alterations were detected in areas of active demyelination in three ALD patients. A large proportion of apoptotic cells were oligodendrocytes and some express activated caspase-3. TUNEL-positive nuclei and/or caspase-3 staining were also detected in perivascular infiltrates and, occasionally, in neurons. We conclude that apoptosis of oligodendrocytes may account, at least in part, for the demyelinating process in the ALD brain.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.