Post-mortem MRI-guided sampling of multiple sclerosis brain lesions: increased yield of active demyelinating and (p)reactive lesions

Brain. 2001 Aug;124(Pt 8):1635-45. doi: 10.1093/brain/124.8.1635.


Macroscopic sampling of multiple sclerosis lesions in the brain tends to find chronic lesions. For a better understanding of the dynamics of the multiple sclerosis disease process, research into new and developing lesions is of great interest. As MRI in vivo effectively demonstrates lesions in multiple sclerosis patients, we have applied it to unfixed post-mortem brain slices to identify abnormalities, in order to obtain a higher yield of active lesions. The Netherlands Brain Bank organized the rapid autopsy of 29 multiple sclerosis patients. The brain was cut in 1 cm coronal slices. One or two slices were subjected to T(1)- and T(2)-weighted MRI, and then cut at the plane of the MRI scan into 5 mm thick opposing sections. Areas of interest were identified based on the MRI findings and excised. One half was fixed in 10% formalin and paraffin-embedded, and the corresponding area in the adjacent half was snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen. In total, 136 out of 174 brain tissue samples could be matched with the abnormalities seen on T(2)-weighted MRIs. The stage of lesional development was determined (immuno) histochemically. For 54 MRI-detectable samples, it was recorded whether they were macroscopically detectable, i.e. visible and/or palpable. Histopathological analysis revealed that 48% of the hyperintense areas seen on T(2)-weighted images represented active lesions, including lesions localized in the normal appearing white matter, without apparent loss of myelin but nevertheless showing a variable degree of oedema, small clusters of microglial cells with enhanced major histocompatibility complex class II antigen, CD45 and CD68 antigen expression and a variable number of perivascular lymphocytes around small blood vessels [designated as (p)reactive lesions]. From the macroscopically not-visible/not-palpable MRI-detected abnormalities, 58% were (p)reactive lesions and 21% contained active demyelinating lesions. In contrast, visible and/or palpable brain tissue samples mainly contained chronic inactive lesions. We conclude that MRI-guided sampling of brain tissue increases the yield of active multiple sclerosis lesions, including active demyelinating and (p)reactive lesions.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Demyelinating Diseases
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Specimen Handling