Unmyelinated axons are more vulnerable to degeneration than myelinated axons of the cardiac nerve in Parkinson's disease.Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 2011 Dec; 37(7):791-802.NA
We recently demonstrated accumulation of α-synuclein aggregates of the cardiac sympathetic nerve in Parkinson's disease (PD) and a possible relationship between degeneration of the cardiac sympathetic nerve and α-synuclein aggregates. The aim of this study is to determine whether there is a difference in the degenerative process between unmyelinated and myelinated axons of the cardiac nerve.
We immunohistochemically examined cardiac tissues from four pathologically verified PD patients, nine patients with incidental Lewy body disease (ILBD) and five control subjects, using antibodies against neurofilament, myelin basic protein (MBP) and α-synuclein. First, we counted the number of neurofilament-immunoreactive axons not surrounded by MBP (unmyelinated axons) and those surrounded by MBP (myelinated axons). Next, we counted the number of unmyelinated and myelinated axons with α-synuclein aggregates.
(i) The percentage of unmyelinated axons in PD (77.5 ± 9.14%) was significantly lower compared to that in control subjects (92.2 ± 2.40%). (ii) The ratio of unmyelinated axons with α-synuclein aggregates to total axons with α-synuclein aggregates in ILBD ranged from 94.4 to 100 (98.2 ± 2.18%). Among axons with α-synuclein aggregates, unmyelinated axons were the overwhelming majority, comprising 98.2%.
These findings suggest that in PD unmyelinated axons are more vulnerable to degeneration than myelinated axons of the cardiac nerve, because α-synuclein aggregates accumulate much more abundantly in unmyelinated axons.