Lymphocytic infiltration in the spinal cord of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Clin Neuropathol. Nov-Dec 1989;8(6):289-94.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating systemic atrophy affecting the upper and lower motor neurons. The etiology is unknown, but one theory of pathogenesis supposes that the motor system is affected by abnormal immune responses. We have studied the prevalence and extent of lymphocytic infiltration, previously reported as a rare finding in the ALS spinal cord. Application of monoclonal antibodies against macrophages, T- and B-cells to spinal cords from 48 ALS patients disclosed a cellular mononuclear infiltrate in 38 specimens (79%), intense enough to be revealed by routine neuropathological techniques in 6 of them (12.5%); the remaining 10 cords (21%) exhibited no infiltrates. Since duration and clinical signs of the preceeding illness were the same in cases with and without infiltrates, we consider it unlikely that such infiltrates are entirely secondary to atrophy of the cord. As Wallerian degeneration is not accompanied by infiltrates of lymphocytes, their presence in the cord tracts of our material throws doubt on the conventional view that tract degeneration in ALS is exclusively Wallerian.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / immunology
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Anterior Horn Cells / immunology
  • Anterior Horn Cells / pathology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antigens, CD / analysis
  • Antigens, Differentiation / analysis
  • Cell Aggregation
  • Female
  • Histocompatibility Antigens / analysis
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens
  • Lymphocytes* / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons / pathology*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / immunology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / pathology*
  • Wallerian Degeneration


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens