Mechanistic underpinning of an inside–out concept for autoimmunity in multiple sclerosis

Bert A. ’t Hart, Antonio Luchicchi, Geert J. Schenk, Peter K. Stys, Jeroen J. G. Geurts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The neuroinflammatory disease multiple sclerosis is driven by autoimmune pathology in the central nervous system. However, the trigger of the autoimmune pathogenic process is unknown. MS models in immunologically naïve, specific-pathogen-free bred rodents support an exogenous trigger, such as an infection. The validity of this outside–in pathogenic concept for MS has been frequently challenged by the difficulty to translate pathogenic concepts developed in these models into effective therapies for the MS patient. Studies in well-validated non-human primate multiple sclerosis models where, just like in humans, the autoimmune pathogenic process develops from an experienced immune system trained by prior infections, rather support an endogenous trigger. Data reviewed here corroborate the validity of this inside–out pathogenic concept for multiple sclerosis. They also provide a plausible sequence of events reminiscent of Wilkin’s primary lesion theory: (i) that autoimmunity is a physiological response of the immune system against excess antigen turnover in diseased tissue (the primary lesion) and (ii) that individuals developing autoimmune disease are (genetically predisposed) high responders against critical antigens. Data obtained in multiple sclerosis brains reveal the presence in normally appearing white matter of myelinated axons where myelin sheaths have locally dissociated from their enwrapped axon (i.e., blistering). The ensuing disintegration of axon–myelin units potentially causes the excess systemic release of post-translationally modified myelin. Data obtained in a unique primate multiple sclerosis model revealed a core pathogenic role of T cells present in the normal repertoire, which hyper-react to post-translationally modified (citrullinated) myelin–oligodendrocyte glycoprotein and evoke clinical and pathological aspects of multiple sclerosis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1709-1719
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of clinical and translational neurology
Issue number8
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

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