Pathological ultrastructural alterations of myelinated axons in normal appearing white matter in progressive multiple sclerosis

Wendy Oost, Allard J Huitema, Kim Kats, Ben N G Giepmans, Susanne M Kooistra, Bart J L Eggen, Wia Baron*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) pathophysiology includes inflammation, demyelination and neurodegeneration, but the exact mechanisms of disease initiation and progression are unknown. A major feature of lesions is lack of myelin, which increases axonal energy demand and requires adaptation in number and size of mitochondria. Outside lesions, subtle and diffuse alterations are observed in normal appearing white matter (NAWM) and normal appearing grey matter (NAGM), including increased oxidative stress, reduced axon density and changes in myelin composition and morphology. On an ultrastructural level, only limited data is available on alterations in myelinated axons. We generated large scale 2D scanning transmission electron microscopy images ('nanotomy') of non-demyelinated brain tissue of control and progressive MS donors, accessible via an open-access online repository. We observed a reduced density of myelinated axons in NAWM, without a decrease in cross-sectional axon area. Small myelinated axons were less frequently and large myelinated axons were more frequently present in NAWM, while the g-ratio was similar. The correlation between axonal mitochondrial radius and g-ratio was lost in NAWM, but not in NAGM. Myelinated axons in control GM and NAGM had a similar g-ratio and radius distribution. We hypothesize that axonal loss in NAWM is likely compensated by swelling of the remaining myelinated axons and subsequent adjustment of myelin thickness to maintain their g-ratio. Failure of axonal mitochondria to adjust their size and fine-tuning of myelin thickness may render NAWM axons and their myelin more susceptible to injury.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100
Number of pages17
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Publication statusPublished - 20-Jun-2023


  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis/pathology
  • White Matter/pathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Axons/pathology
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Progressive/pathology
  • Myelin Sheath/pathology
  • Brain/pathology

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