Spinal cord monoaminergic and peptidergic axonal damage occurring during the development of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) was assessed using immunohistochemistry. Spinal cord axons immunoreactive for serotonin, catecholamines, or a thyrotropin‐releasing hormone marker peptide were found to be markedly swollen and distorted by the earliest stage of detectable paralysis during EAE development (the flaccid tail stage). As clinical signs progressed to complete hindlimb paralysis, axonal damage became increasingly extensive. Axonal damage was equally pronounced whether EAE was induced by inoculation with purified myelin basic protein or with whole spinal cord homogenate, suggesting that the damage did not result from an immune attack directed against specific monoaminergic and/or peptidergic antigens present in the inoculant. However, two observations suggested that mechanical or chemical factors associated with the inflammatory foci contribute to the axonal damage: first, distorted axons were nearly always located adjacent to blood vessels or the pial surface, sites at which inflammation occurs during EAE. Second, the severity of axonal damage correlated with the severity of the inflammation. The early onset of axonal damage during development of EAE and the close correlation that was found between the severity of axonal damage and the severity of clinical signs suggested that the axonal damage may contribute to the clinical signs of the disease.
- spinal cord