Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy: a review of the pathology and pathogenesis

Microsc Res Tech. 1995 Nov 1;32(4):302-11. doi: 10.1002/jemt.1070320405.


Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy is an important viral opportunistic infection of oligodendrocytes leading to direct demyelination. Virus is likely disseminated to the brain via the blood. However, the timing of that dissemination with relationship to clinical disease is unknown. Important clues about viral pathogenesis have been learned by applying molecular in situ techniques to diseased brain. The oligodendrocyte is the primary target for JC virus infection, and its death is the primary reason for demyelination. Bizarre astrocytes show limited viral DNA replication but are abortively infected. Although lymphoid organs can be infected by JC virus, there is no definitive evidence that lymphoid cells carry virus into the brain at the time of immunosuppression. JC virus may be reactivated from a latent state in both the brain and in non-central nervous system (CNS) organs at the time of immunosuppression, leading to clinical disease. Future sensitive in situ studies will likely resolve controversies about pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Humans
  • JC Virus*
  • Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal / pathology*
  • Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal / virology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Papillomavirus Infections / etiology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / etiology
  • Tumor Virus Infections / pathology*