A substantial proportion of cases with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis have extensive inflammation in the leptomeninges that is associated with increased subpial demyelination, neuronal loss and an exacerbated disease course. However, the mechanisms underlying this extensive subpial pathology are poorly understood. We hypothesize that pro-inflammatory cytokine production within the meninges may be a key to this process. Post-mortem cerebrospinal fluid and dissected cerebral leptomeningeal tissue from patients with multiple sclerosis were used to study the presence of tumour necrosis factor and interferon gamma protein and messenger RNA levels. A novel model of subpial cortical grey matter demyelination was set up in Dark Agouti rats and analysed using quantitative immunohistochemistry. Increased expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokines tumour necrosis factor and interferon gamma was found in the meninges of cases with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis exhibiting tertiary lymphoid-like structures. Injection of tumour necrosis factor and interferon gamma into the subarachnoid space of female Dark Agouti rats pre-immunized with a subclinical dose of myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein mimicked the pathology seen in multiple sclerosis, including infiltration of lymphocytes (CD4+and CD8+ T cells and CD79+ B cells) into the meninges and extensive subpial demyelination. Extensive microglial/macrophage activation was present in a gradient from the pial surface to deeper cortical layers. Demyelination did not occur in control animals immunized with incomplete Freund’s adjuvant and injected with cytokines. These results support the hypothesis that pro-inflammatory molecules produced in the meninges play a major role in cortical demyelination in multiple sclerosis, but also emphasize the involvement of an anti-myelin immune response.
Grey matter involvement in MS is becoming of increasing importance. This study indicates that if inflammatory mediators are injected into the space above the brain in animals with autoimmunity then extensive grey matter involvement can occur. So the solution may be to deal with the immune response within the brain,