Macrophages are frequently present within the periaxonal and intramyelinic vacuoles that are located primarily in the posterior and lateral funiculi of the thoracic spinal cord in HIV-associated vacuolar myelopathy. But the role of these macrophages in the formation of the vacuoles is unclear. One hypothesis is that cytokines, such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, are produced locally by macrophages and have toxic effects on myelin or oligodendrocytes. The resulting myelin damage eventually culminates in the removal of myelin by macrophages and vacuole formation. We studied thoracic spinal cord specimens taken at autopsy from HIV-positive (+) and HIV-negative individuals. The predominant mononuclear cells present in HIV+ spinal cords are macrophages. They are located primarily in the posterior and lateral funiculi regardless of the presence or absence of vacuolar myelopathy. Macrophages and microglia are more frequent in HIV+ than HIV-negative individuals and these cells frequently stain for class I and class II antigens, IL-1, and TNF-α. Activated macrophages positive for IL-1 and TNF-α are greatly increased in the posterior and lateral funiculi of HIV+ individuals with and without vacuolar myelopathy, suggesting they are present prior to the development of vacuoles. Cytokines, such as TNF-α, may be toxic for myelin or oligodendrocytes, leading to myelin damage and removal by macrophages and vacuole formation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology