Grey matter pathology has emerged as an important contributor to long-term disability in multiple sclerosis. To better understand where and how neuronal damage in the grey matter is initiated, we used high resolution confocal microscopy of Golgi-Cox impregnated tissue sections and reconstructed single cortical projection neurons in autopsies from eight patients with long-standing relapsing-remitting or secondary progressive multiple sclerosis and eight control patients without neurological disease. Analysis of several hundred individual neurons located in the insular, frontotemporal and occipital lobe revealed a widespread and pronounced loss of dendritic spines in multiple sclerosis cortex that occurs independent of cortical demyelination and axon loss. The presence of a primary synaptic pathology in the normal-appearing cortex of multiple sclerosis patients challenges current disease concepts and has important implications for our understanding of disease progression.
Keywords: cortical projection neurons; demyelination; dendritic spines; multiple sclerosis; neuropathology; synaptopathy.
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