Axonal pathology in myelin disorders

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SummaryMyelination provides extrinsic trophic signals that influence normal maturation and long-term survival of axons. The extent of axonal involvement in diseases affecting myelin or myelin forming cells has traditionally been underestimated. There are, however, many examples of axon damage as a consequence of dysmyelinating or demyelinating disorders. More than a century ago, Charcot described the pathology of multiple sclerosis (MS) in terms of demyelination and relative sparing of axons. Recent reports demonstrate a strong correlation between inflammatory demyelination in MS lesions and axonal transection, indicating axonal loss at disease onset. Disruption of axons is also observed in experimental allergic encephalomyelitis and in Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus disease, two animal models of inflammatory demyelinating CNS disease. A number of dysmyelinating mouse mutants with axonal pathology have provided insights regarding cellular and molecular mechanisms of axon degeneration. For example, the myelin-associated glycoprotein and proteolipid protein have been shown to be essential for mediating myelin-derived trophic signals to axons. Patients with the inherited peripheral neuropathy Charcot-Marie Tooth disease type 1 develop symptomatic progressive axonal loss due to abnormal Schwann cell expression of peripheral myelin protein 22. The data summarized in this review indicate that axonal damage is an integral part of myelin disease, and that loss of axons contributes to the irreversible functional impairment observed in affected individuals. Early neuroprotection should be considered as an additional therapeutic option for these patients.

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