AIMS: X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) is a genetic white matter disorder in which demyelination occurs due to accumulation of very long-chain fatty acids. Inflammation in the brain white matter is a hallmark of the pathology of cerebral X-ALD, but the underlying pathogenic mechanisms are still largely unknown. In other inflammatory demyelinating disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, the expression of heat shock proteins (HSPs) in combination with interferon-γ (IFN-γ) has been suggested to play a prominent role in the initiation of demyelination and inflammation. We therefore investigated these pathways in X-ALD lesions.
METHODS: By immunohistochemistry, we examined the expression of small HSPs (HSPB1, HSPB5, HSPB6, HSPB8) and higher molecular weight HSPs (HSPA, HSPD1), and the expression of elements of the IFN-γ pathway on autopsy material of five patients with X-ALD.
RESULTS: The expression of the larger HSPs, HSPA and HSPD1, as well as small HSPs is increased in X-ALD lesions compared with normal-appearing white matter. Such upregulation can already be detected before demyelination and inflammation occur, and it is predominant in astrocytes. The IFN-γ pathway does not seem to play a leading role in the observed inflammation.
CONCLUSIONS: The finding that astrocytes show signs of cellular stress before demyelination suggests that they play a major role early in the pathogenesis of cerebral X-ALD, and may therefore be involved in the initiation of inflammation and demyelination.