Wallerian degeneration (WaD) is the process of antegrade degeneration of the axons and their accompanying myelin sheaths following proximal axonal or neuronal cell body lesions. It may result following neuronal loss due to cerebral infarction, trauma, necrosis, focal demyelination or haemorrhage.
It is usually classified into four stages:
- degeneration of the axons and myelin sheaths with mild chemical changes (0 - 4 weeks)
- rapid destruction of myelin protein fragments that were already degenerated, lipids remain intact (4 - 14 weeks)
- gliosis replaces the degenerated axons and myelin sheaths, myelin lipid breakdown (> 14 weeks)
- atrophy of the white matter tracts (months to years)
CT is not as sensitive as MRI, and Wallerian degeneration is generally observed only in its chronic stage. It is seen as a contiguous tract of gliosis leading from an region of cortical or subcortical of neuronal injury towards the deep cerebral structures, along the expected topographical course of the involved white matter tract.
Corresponding stages have been described on MRI.
- no changes
- T1 hyperintense
- T1 hypointense
- brainstem atrophy with or without hypointensity
- no changes
- T2 hypointense
- T2 hyperintense
- brainstem atrophy
It is named after English neurophysiologist Augustis Volney Waller (1816 - 1870), who had described the process in 1850 6.
- 1. De simone T, Regna-gladin C, Carriero MR et-al. Wallerian degeneration of the pontocerebellar fibers. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2005;26 (5): 1062-5. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol (link) - Pubmed citation
- 2. Kuhn MJ, Mikulis DJ, Ayoub DM et-al. Wallerian degeneration after cerebral infarction: evaluation with sequential MR imaging. Radiology. 1989;172 (1): 179-82. Radiology (citation) - Pubmed citation
- 3. Inoue Y, Matsumura Y, Fukuda T et-al. MR imaging of Wallerian degeneration in the brainstem: temporal relationships. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 11 (5): 897-902. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol (citation) - Pubmed citation
- 4. Uchino A, Sawada A, Takase Y et-al. Transient detection of early wallerian degeneration on diffusion-weighted MRI after an acute cerebrovascular accident. Neuroradiology. 2004;46 (3): 183-8. doi:10.1007/s00234-003-1159-x - Pubmed citation
- 5. Pierpaoli C, Barnett A, Pajevic S et-al. Water diffusion changes in Wallerian degeneration and their dependence on white matter architecture. Neuroimage. 2001;13 (6 Pt 1): 1174-85. doi:10.1006/nimg.2001.0765 - Pubmed citation
- 6. Waller A. "Experiments on the section of the glossopharyngeal and hypoglossal nerves of the frog, and observations of the alterations produced thereby in the structure of their primitive fibres." Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London 1850, 140:423–29
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