Objective: Axonal damage occurs early in multiple sclerosis (MS) and contributes to the degree of clinical disability. Children with MS more often show disabling and polyfocal neurological symptoms at disease onset than adults with MS. Thus, axonal damage may differ between pediatric and adult MS patients.
Methods: We analyzed axonal pathology in archival brain biopsy and autopsy samples from 19 children with early MS. Lesions were classified according to demyelinating activity and presence of remyelination. Axonal density and extent of acute axonal damage were assessed using Bielschowsky silver impregnation and immunohistochemistry for amyloid precursor protein (APP), respectively. Axonal injury was correlated with the inflammatory infiltrate as well as clinical characteristics. Results were compared with data from adult MS patients.
Results: Acute axonal damage was most extensive in early active demyelinating (EA) lesions of pediatric patients and correlated positively with the Expanded Disability Status Scale at attack leading to biopsy/autopsy. Comparison with 12 adult patients showed a 50% increase in the extent of acute axonal damage in EA lesions from children compared to adults, with the highest number of APP-positive spheroids found prior to puberty. The extent of acute axonal damage correlated positively with the number of lesional macrophages. Axonal density was reduced in pediatric lesions irrespective of the demyelinating activity or the presence of remyelination. Axonal reduction was similar between children and adults.
Interpretation: Our results provide evidence for more pronounced acute axonal damage in inflammatory demyelinating lesions from children compared to adults.
© 2015 American Neurological Association.