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Locus coeruleus damage and noradrenaline reductions in multiple sclerosis and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis

Paul E. Polak, Sergey Kalinin, Douglas L. Feinstein
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awq362 awq362 First published online: 4 February 2011


The endogenous neurotransmitter noradrenaline exerts anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects in vitro and in vivo. Several studies report that noradrenaline levels are altered in the central nervous system of patients with multiple sclerosis and rodents with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, which could contribute to pathology. Since the major source of noradrenaline are neurons in the locus coeruleus, we hypothesized that alterations in noradrenaline levels are a consequence of stress or damage to locus coeruleus neurons. In C57BL/6 mice immunized with myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein peptide 35–55 to develop chronic disease, cortical and spinal cord levels of noradrenaline were significantly reduced versus control mice. Immunohistochemical staining revealed increased astrocyte activation in the ventral portion of the locus coeruleus in immunized mice. The immunized mice showed neuronal damage in the locus coeruleus detected by a reduction of average cell size of tyrosine hydroxylase stained neurons. Analysis of the locus coeruleus of multiple sclerosis and control brains showed a significant increase in astrocyte activation, a reduction in noradrenaline levels, and neuronal stress indicated by hypertrophy of tyrosine hydroxylase stained cell bodies. However, the magnitude of these changes was not correlated with extent of demyelination or of cellular infiltrates. Together these findings demonstrate the presence of inflammation and neuronal stress in multiple sclerosis as well as in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Since reduced noradrenaline levels could be permissive for increased inflammation and neuronal damage, these results suggest that methods to raise noradrenaline levels or increase locus coeruleus function may be of benefit in treating multiple sclerosis.

  • locus coeruleus
  • noradrenaline
  • tyrosine hydroxylase
  • GFAP
  • EAE
  • Abbreviations
    brain derived neurotrophic factor
    experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
    glial fibrillary acidic protein
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