Quantitative cellular changes in multiple system atrophy brains.
Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterised by a combined symptomatology of parkinsonism, cerebellar ataxia, autonomic failure and corticospinal dysfunction. In brains of MSA patients, the hallmark lesion is the aggregation of misfolded alpha-synuclein in oligodendrocytes. Even though the underlying pathological mechanisms remain poorly understood, the evidence suggests that alpha-synuclein aggregation in oligodendrocytes may contribute to the neurodegeneration seen in MSA. The primary aim of this review is to summarise the published stereological data on the total number of neurons and glial cell subtypes (oligodendrocytes, astrocytes and microglia) and volumes in brains from MSA patients. Thus, we include in this review exclusively the reports of unbiased quantitative data from brain regions including the neocortex, nuclei of the cerebrum, the brainstem and the cerebellum. Furthermore, we compare and discuss the stereological results in the context of imaging findings and MSA symptomatology. In general, the stereological results agree with the common neuropathological findings of neurodegeneration and gliosis in brains from MSA patients and support a major loss of nigrostriatal neurons in MSA patients with predominant parkinsonism (MSA-P), as well as olivopontocerebellar atrophy in MSA patients with predominant cerebellar ataxia (MSA-C). Surprisingly, the reports indicate only a minor loss of oligodendrocytes in sub-cortical regions of the cerebrum (glial cells not studied in the cerebellum) and negligible changes in brain volumes. In the past decades, the use of stereological methods has provided a vast amount of accurate information on cell numbers and volumes in the brains of MSA patients. Combining different techniques such as stereology and diagnostic imaging (e.g. MRI, PET and SPECT) with clinical data allows for a more detailed interdisciplinary understanding of the disease and illuminates the relationship between neuropathological changes and MSA symptomatology.
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