TDP-43 pathology and neuronal loss in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis spinal cord

Johannes Brettschneider, Kimihito Arai, Kelly Del Tredici, Jon B. Toledo, John L. Robinson, Edward B. Lee, Satoshi Kuwabara, Kazumoto Shibuya, David J. Irwin, Lubin Fang, Vivianna M. Van Deerlin, Lauren Elman, Leo McCluskey, Albert C. Ludolph, Virginia M.Y. Lee, Heiko Braak, John Q. Trojanowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Scopus citations


We examined the phosphorylated 43-kDa TAR DNA-binding protein (pTDP-43) inclusions as well as neuronal loss in full-length spinal cords and five selected regions of the central nervous system from 36 patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and 10 age-matched normal controls. The most severe neuronal loss and pTDP-43 lesions were seen in lamina IX motor nuclei columns 4, 6, and 8 of lower cervical segments and in columns 9-11 of lumbosacral segments. Severity of pTDP-43 pathology and neuronal loss correlated closely with gray and white matter oligodendroglial involvement and was linked to onset of disease, with severe involvement of columns 4, 6, and 8 of upper extremity onset cases and severe involvement of columns of 9, 10, and 11 in cases with lower extremity onset. Severe TDP-43 lesions and neuronal loss were observed in stage 4 cases and sometimes included Onuf's nucleus. Notably, three cases displayed pTDP-43 aggregates in the midbrain oculomotor nucleus, which we had not seen previously even in cases with advanced (i.e., stage 4) pathology. pTDP-43 aggregates were observed in neurons of Clarke's column in 30.6 % of cases but rarely in the intermediolateral nucleus (IML). Gray matter oligodendroglial pTDP-43 inclusions were present in areas devoid of neuronal pTDP-43 aggregates and neuronal loss. Taken together, our findings indicate that (1) the dorsolateral motor nuclei columns of the cervical and lumbosacral anterior horn may be the earliest foci of pTDP-43 pathology in the spinal cord, (2) gray matter oligodendroglial involvement is an early event in the ALS disease process that possibly heralds subsequent involvement of neurons by pTDP-43 pathology, and (3) in some very advanced cases, there is oculomotor nucleus involvement, which may constitute an additional neuropathological stage (designated here as stage 5) of pTDP-43 pathology in ALS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)423-437
Number of pages15
JournalActa Neuropathologica
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Oligodendroglia
  • Onuf's nucleus
  • Spinal cord
  • TDP-43

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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