Depletion of catecholaminergic neurons of the rostral ventrolateral medulla in multiple systems atrophy with autonomic failure

Eduardo E. Benarroch, Inge L. Smithson, Phillip A. Low, Joseph E. Parisi

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The ventrolateral portion of the intermediate reticular formation of the medulla (ventrolateral medulla, VLM), including the C1/A1 groups of catecholaminergic neurons, is thought to be involved in control of sympathetic cardiovascular outflow, cardiorespiratory interactions, and reflex control of vasopressin release. As all these functions are affected in patients with multiple systems atrophy (MSA) with autonomic failure, we sought to test the hypothesis that catecholaminergic (tyrosine hydroxylase [TH]-positive) neurons of the VLM are depleted in these patients. Medullas were obtained at autopsy from 4 patients with MSA with prominent autonomic failure and 5 patients with no neurological disease. Patients with MSA had laboratory evidence of severe adrenergic sudomotor and cardiovagal failure. Tissue was immersion fixed in 2% paraformaldehyde at 4°C for 24 hours and cut into 1-cm blocks in the coronal plane from throughout the medulla. Serial 50-μm sections were collected and one section every 300 μm was stained for TH. There was a pronounced depletion of TH neurons in the rostral VLM in all cases of MSA. There was also significant reduction of TH neurons in the caudal VLM in 3 MSA patients compared with 3 control subjects. In 2 MSA cases and in 2 control subjects, the thoracic spinal cord was available for study. There was also depletion of TH fibers and sympathetic preganglionic neurons (SPNs) in the 2 MSA cases examined. Thus, depletion of catecholaminergic neurons in the VLM may provide a substrate for some of the autonomic and endocrine manifestations of MSA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-163
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1998


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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