Vanishing white matter (VWM) is classified as a leukodystrophy with astrocytes as primary drivers in its pathogenesis. Magnetic resonance imaging has documented the progressive thinning of cortices in long-surviving patients. Routine histopathological analyses, however, have not yet pointed to cortical involvement in VWM. Here, we provide a comprehensive analysis of the VWM cortex. We employed high-resolution-mass-spectrometry-based proteomics and immunohistochemistry to gain insight into possible molecular disease mechanisms in the cortices of VWM patients. The proteome analysis revealed 268 differentially expressed proteins in the VWM cortices compared to the controls. A majority of these proteins formed a major protein interaction network. A subsequent gene ontology analysis identified enrichment for terms such as cellular metabolism, particularly mitochondrial activity. Importantly, some of the proteins with the most prominent changes in expression were found in astrocytes, indicating cortical astrocytic involvement. Indeed, we confirmed that VWM cortical astrocytes exhibit morphological changes and are less complex in structure than control cells. Our findings also suggest that these astrocytes are immature and not reactive. Taken together, we provide insights into cortical involvement in VWM, which has to be taken into account when developing therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3581
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2022


  • astrocytes
  • astrocytopathy
  • cortex
  • leukodystrophy
  • proteomics
  • vanishing white matter

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