Cortical pathology in multiple sclerosis

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Purpose of review

Multiple sclerosis is the most common chronic, disabling central nervous system disease in young adults, characterized by inflammatory demyelinating white matter lesions with glial scar formation and axonal loss. Lately, evidence has accumulated that large areas of grey matter are affected in multiple sclerosis patients.

Recent findings

Findings in post-mortem brain tissue support the notion that cortical demyelination is frequent and extensive, especially in patients with chronic multiple sclerosis. Cortical lesions differ from white matter lesions with respect to inflammatory cell infiltration, gliosis, and remyelination. Thus, differences in cortical and white matter lesion pathogenesis have been proposed. Experimental models suggest a decisive role for antimyelin antibodies in cortical demyelination. Topical studies focus on damage to neurons, dendrites, and synapses in cortical multiple sclerosis lesions. Improved imaging techniques for the detection of cortical lesions are currently developed and will provide the basis for future clinicopathological correlative studies.


In summary, recent years have opened our eyes to the extensive grey matter involvement in multiple sclerosis. Studies on the pathogenesis of cortical demyelination, cortical damage, and repair will elucidate basic principles of multiple sclerosis lesion formation. However, more sensitive imaging tools are required to study the impact of cortical lesions on clinical symptoms, disability, and disease progression.

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