Molecular signature of slowly expanding lesions in progressive multiple sclerosis


Jäckle K, Zeis T, Schaeren-Wiemers N, Junker A, van der Meer F, Kramann N, Stadelmann C, Brück W




Brain. 2020 Jul 1;143(7):2073-2088.


Multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated chronic inflammatory disease of the CNS that leads to demyelinated lesions in the grey and white matter. Inflammatory, active demyelinating white matter lesions predominate in the relapsing-remitting disease stages, whereas in the progressive stage the so-called slowly expanding lesion is characteristic. These lesions show an accumulation of macrophages/microglia at their borders, mediating the ongoing myelin breakdown and axonal degeneration. The exact pathogenetic mechanisms of lesion progression in chronic multiple sclerosis are still not clear. In the present study, we performed a detailed immunological and molecular profiling of slowly expanding lesions (n = 21) from 13 patients aged between 30 to 74 years (five females and eight males), focusing on macrophage/microglia differentiation. By applying the microglia-specific marker TMEM119, we demonstrate that cells accumulating at the lesion edge almost exclusively belonged to the microglia lineage. Macrophages/microglia can be subdivided into the M1 type, which are associated with inflammatory and degenerative processes, and M2 type, with protective properties, whereby also intermediate polarization phenotypes can be observed. By using a panel of markers characterizing M1- or M2-type macrophages/microglia, we observed a preferential accumulation of M1-type differentiated cells at the lesion edge, indicating a crucial role of these cells in lesion progression. Additionally, unbiased RNA microarray analyses of macrodissected lesion edges from slowly expanding and chronic inactive lesions as well as normal-appearing white matter were performed. In slowly expanding lesions, we identified a total of 165 genes that were upregulated and 35 genes that were downregulated. The upregulated genes included macrophage/microglia-associated genes involved in immune defence and inflammatory processes. Among the upregulated genes were ALOX15B, MME and TNFRSF25. We confirmed increased expression of ALOX15B by quantitative PCR, and of all three genes on the protein level by immunohistochemistry. In conclusion, the present study characterized in detail slowly expanding lesions in progressive multiple sclerosis and demonstrated a preferential accumulation of resident microglia with M1 differentiation at the lesion edge. Microarray analysis showed an increased expression of genes related to immune function, metabolic processes as well as transcription/translation. Thus, these genes may serve as future therapeutic targets to impede lesion progression.



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