Multiple system atrophy: alpha-synuclein and neuronal degeneration

Neuropathology. 2007 Oct;27(5):484-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1789.2007.00841.x.


Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a sporadic neurodegenerative disorder that encompasses olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA), striatonigral degeneration (SND) and Shy-Drager syndrome (SDS). The histopathological hallmark is the formation of alpha-synuclein-positive glial cytoplasmic inclusions (GCIs) in oligodendroglia. alpha-synuclein aggregation is also found in glial nuclear inclusions, neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions (NCIs), neuronal nuclear inclusions (NNIs) and dystrophic neurites. We evaluated the pathological features of 102 MSA cases, and presented the pathological spectrum of MSA and initial features of alpha-synuclein accumulation. We found that 39% of the 102 cases showed equivalent SND and OPCA pathologies, 33% showed OPCA- and 22% showed SND-predominant pathology, whereas 6% showed extremely mild changes. Our pathological analysis indicated that OPCA-type was relatively more frequent and SND-type was less frequent in Japanese MSA cases, compared to the relatively high frequency of SND-type in Western countries, suggesting that different phenotypic patterns of MSA may exist between races. In the early stage, in addition to GCIs, NNIs and diffuse homogenous alpha-synuclein staining in neuronal nuclei and cytoplasm were observed in lesions in the pontine nuclei, putamen, substantia nigra, locus ceruleus, inferior olivary nucleus, intermediolateral column of thoracic spinal cord, lower motor neurons and cortical pyramidal neurons. A subgroup of MSA cases with severe temporal atrophy showed numerous NCIs, particularly in the limbic system. These findings suggest that primary non-fibrillar and fibrillar alpha-synuclein aggregation also occur in neurons. The oligo-myelin-axon-neuron complex mechanism, along with the direct involvement of neurons themselves, may synergistically accelerate the degenerative process of MSA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / pathology
  • Biomarkers
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / pathology
  • Multiple System Atrophy / pathology*
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism*
  • alpha-Synuclein / physiology*


  • Biomarkers
  • alpha-Synuclein