In view of the presence of neuropeptides in spinal cord autonomic pathways, their regional concentration was studied in post mortem thoracic cord from four cases of multiple system atrophy with progressive autonomic failure (MSA). A marked depletion was observed of substance P, its related peptide substance K, and of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), particularly in dorsal regions where peptide-containing sensory fibres terminate. As substance P and CGRP in primary sensory fibres are considered mediators of skin flares in Lewis' triple response, histamine-induced skin flares were measured in 12 MSA patients and were found to be preserved. These results provide a new key to the classification and aetiology of autonomic and multiple system degenerations, as well as a model to study the role of sensory neuropeptides in man.
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