Background: Brain imaging studies detect abnormalities in normal-appearing white matter in patients with MS.
Objective: To investigate the histopathologic basis for these changes in autopsy tissue from a patient with MS with 9 months' disease duration and a terminal brain stem lesion.
Methods: The brain stem and spinal cord were analyzed ultrastructurally and immunocytochemically for axons, myelin, and activated microglia/macrophages.
Results: Pathologic findings were consistent with a terminal inflammatory demyelinated lesion at the cervicomedullary junction. The ventral spinal cord column, containing descending tracts, exhibited 22% axonal loss at segment C7, but grossly normal immunostaining for myelin. Confocal and electron microscopy revealed myelin sheaths without axonal content and initial stages of myelin degradation by activated microglia/macrophages among intact myelinated axons. Axonal number and appearance was normal in ascending sensory tracts.
Conclusions: These studies confirm axonal degeneration in the absence of myelin loss as one histopathologic correlate to abnormal MR findings in patients with MS.