Journal Article

Brain damage and axonal injury in a Scottish cohort of neonatal deaths

J. E. Bell, J.-C. Becher, B. Wyatt, J. W. Keeling and N. McIntosh

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 128, issue 5, pages 1070-1081
Published in print May 2005 | ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online February 2005 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI:
Brain damage and axonal injury in a Scottish cohort of neonatal deaths

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Despite the clinical and medicolegal significance attached to perinatal asphyxia, the neuropathological basis of this condition remains obscure. There are very few studies in the literature which correlate the pathological findings in neonatal brains with detailed epidemiological data, and none which are population based. In a Scotland-wide study of neonatal deaths, 70 brains have been examined. On the basis of glial and macrophage reactions, we previously identified infants with putative antepartum brain damage in this cohort and have related these reactions to signs of birth asphyxia. The present study explores the extent of neuronal/axonal injury in these infants since this is likely to be the basis for neurological deficits in surviving infants. We have also investigated these brains for β-amyloid precursor protein (βAPP) positivity to determine whether this is a useful marker of neuronal injury in neonates. Neuronal eosinophilia and karyorrhexes were detected in 43% and 27% of the cohort, respectively; maximally in the subiculum and ventral pons, but often present elsewhere. White matter damage was detected in 24% of cases but without classic cystic lesions of periventricular leucomalacia. βAPP positivity was present in neuronal soma in 52% of cases and, in axons, in 27% of cases, and was seen from as early as 25-weeks gestation. Axonal bulbs were clearly delineated by βAPP positivity and were usually located in the cerebral white matter and internal capsule, and infrequently in the brain stem. Although white matter damage and βAPP axonal positivity were often detected in the same cases (P = 0.034), these features also occurred independently of each other. Both neuronal karyorrhexes and white matter βAPP positivity were significantly correlated with the features of birth asphyxia, particularly a history of seizures. Immunocytochemistry for both βAPP and glial fibrillary acidic protein proved useful in detecting neuropathological features which escaped detection on routine examination, particularly in preterm infants. The presence together of recent and older damage in individual brains suggests that there is an ongoing neuronal response to cerebral insults. We find that βAPP is a useful marker of white matter damage in the neonatal brain. Immunopositivity for βAPP in these circumstances is not attributable to inflicted or accidental trauma. While birth-related trauma cannot be ruled out, hypoxia/ischaemia is a likely cause in these infants. However, the exact pathogenesis of neuronal/axonal injury in the neonatal brain remains unclear.

Keywords: neonatal death; neuropathology; amyloid precursor protein; axonal injury; antepartum brain damage; βAPP = β amyloid precursor protein; GFAP = glial fibrillary acidic protein; H&E = haematoxylin and eosin

Journal Article.  7022 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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