Morphology of oligodendrocytes during demyelination in optic nerves of mice infected with Semliki Forest virus

A M Butt, M G Tutton, S L Kirvell, S Amor, H G Jenkins

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating disease which affects oligodendrocytes, the myelinating cells of the CNS. Demyelination is known to occur in the optic nerves of Balb/c mice infected with the avirulent A7(74) strain of Semliki Forest virus (SFV), and many of the changes are similar to those of patients with MS. The aim of the present study was to determine how demyelination proceeds in individual oligodendrocytes in SFV infection, to help in understanding the pathology of demyelination and remyelination in MS. The whole-cell morphology of individual oligodendrocyte units (defined as the oligodendrocyte, its processes and the internodal myelin segments of the axons it ensheaths) was characterized using intracellular dye injection in isolated intact optic nerves. In untreated control mice, oligodendrocytes had a relatively uniform morphology and each cell on average provided 20 or so nearby axons with single myelin sheaths with internodal lengths of approximately equal to 150 microns. In SFV infected mice, during the peak of demyelination at post-inoculation days 14-21, 55% of oligodendrocytes displayed a range of morphological abnormalities, which most likely represented sequential changes in oligodendrocytes during demyelination. Thus, at the earliest stage of demyelination oligodendrocytes developed swellings or vacuolations along their internodal myelin sheaths, which became gradually attenuated and were completely lost in extreme cases. The results show that whole oligodendrocyte units were affected during SFV-induced demyelination and this is the basis of the focal nature of lesions in this viral model of MS. Individual oligodendrocyte units which had lost their full complement of myelin sheaths had the appearance of immature oligodendrocytes, suggesting they had undergone dedifferentiation. We concluded that these cells may not be destroyed during demyelination and it is possible they are capable of remyelination which is a feature of SFV infection in mice and MS in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-7
Number of pages8
JournalNeuropathology and applied neurobiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1996


  • Animals
  • Demyelinating Diseases
  • Journal Article
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Oligodendroglia
  • Optic Nerve
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Semliki forest virus

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