Since the first description of the case of Auguste Deter, presented in Tübingen in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer, there has been an exponential increase in our knowledge of the neuropathological, cellular, and molecular foundation of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The concept of AD pathogenesis has evolved from a static, binary view discriminating cognitive normality from dementia, towards a dynamic view that considers AD pathology as a long-lasting morbid process that takes place progressively over years, or even decades, before the first symptoms become apparent, and thus operating in a continuum between the two aforementioned extreme states. Several biomarkers have been proposed to predict AD-related cognitive decline, initially in cases with mild cognitive impairment, and more recently in cognitively intact individuals. These early markers define at-risk individuals thought to be in the preclinical phase of AD. However, the clinical relevance of this preclinical phase remains controversial. The fate of such individuals, who are cognitively intact, but positive for some early AD biomarkers, is currently uncertain at best. In this report, we advocate the point of view that although most of these preclinical cases will evolve to clinically overt AD, some appear to have efficient compensatory mechanisms and virtually never develop dementia. We critically review the currently available early AD markers, discuss their clinical relevance, and propose a novel classification of preclinical AD, designating these non-progressing cases as 'stable asymptomatic cerebral amyloidosis'.
Alzheimer disease; asymptomatic; cerebral amyloidosis; cognition; compensatory phenomena; dementia
The University of Geneva brain collection was founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, it consists of 10,154 formaldehyde- or buffered formaldehyde–fixed brains obtained from the autopsies of the Department of Psychiatry and, since 1971, from the Department of Geriatrics as well. More than 100,000 paraffin-embedded blocks and 200,000 histological slides have also been collected since 1901. From the time of its creation, this collection has served as an important resource for pathological studies and clinicopathological correlations, primarily in the field of dementing illnesses and brain aging research. These materials have permitted a number of original neuropathological observations, such as the classification of Pick’s disease by Constantinidis, or the description of dyshoric angiopathy and laminar sclerosis by Morel. The large number of cases, including some very rare conditions, provides a unique resource and an opportunity for worldwide collaborations.
neuropathology; brain collection; normal aging; Alzheimer’s disease
Previous neuropathological studies documented that small vascular and microvascular pathology is associated with cognitive decline. More recently, we showed that thalamic and basal ganglia lacunes are associated with post-stroke depression and may affect emotional regulation. The present study examines whether this is also the case for late-onset depression.
We performed a detailed analysis of small macrovascular and microvascular pathology in the postmortem brains of 38 patients with late-onset major depression (LOD) and 29 healthy elderly controls. A clinical diagnosis of LOD was established while the subjects were alive using the DSM-IV criteria. Additionally, we retrospectively reviewed all charts for the presence of clinical criteria of vascular depression. Neuropathological evaluation included bilateral semiquantitative assessment of lacunes, deep white matter and periventricular demyelination, cortical microinfarcts and both focal and diffuse gliosis. The association between vascular burden and LOD was investigated using Fisher’s exact test and univariate and multivariate logistic regression models.
Neither the existence of lacunes nor the presence of microvascular ischaemic lesions was related to occurrence of LOD. Similarly, there was no relationship between vascular lesion scores and LOD. This was also the case within the subgroup of LOD patients fulfilling the clinical criteria for vascular depression.
Our results challenge the vascular depression hypothesis by showing that neither deep white matter nor periventricular demyelination is associated with LOD. In conjunction with our previous observations in stroke patients, they also imply that the impact of lacunes on mood may be significant solely in the presence of acute brain compromise.
brain ischaemia; elderly; mood; neuropathology; vascular depression
One third of all stroke survivors develop post-stroke depression (PSD). Depressive symptoms adversely affect rehabilitation and significantly increase risk of death in the post-stroke period. One of the theoretical views on the determinants of PSD focuses on psychosocial factors like disability and social support. Others emphasize biologic mechanisms such as disruption of biogenic amine neurotransmission and release of proinflammatory cytokines. The “lesion location” perspective attempts to establish a relationship between localization of stroke and occurrence of depression, but empirical results remain contradictory. These divergences are partly related to the fact that neuroimaging methods, unlike neuropathology, are not able to assess precisely the full extent of stroke-affected areas and do not specify the different types of vascular lesions. We provide here an overview of the known phenomenological profile and current pathogenic hypotheses of PSD and present neuropathological data challenging the classic “single-stroke”-based neuroanatomical model of PSD. We suggest that vascular burden due to the chronic accumulation of small macrovascular and microvascular lesions may be a crucial determinant of the development and evolution of PSD.
Cerebral ischemia; Location; Macroinfarcts; Microvascular; Mood; Neuropathology
Small vessel pathology and microvascular lesions are no longer considered as minor players in the fields of cognitive impairment and mood regulation. Although frequently found in cognitively intact elders, both neuroimaging and neuropathological data revealed the negative impact on cognitive performances of their presence within neocortical association areas, thalamus and basal ganglia. Unlike cognition, the relationship between these lesions and mood dysregulation is still a matter of intense debate. Early studies focusing on the role of macroinfarct location in the occurrence of post-stroke depression (PSD) led to conflicting data. Later on, the concept of vascular depression proposed a deleterious effect of subcortical lacunes and deep white matter demyelination on mood regulation in elders who experienced the first depressive episode. More recently, the chronic accumulation of lacunes in thalamus, basal ganglia and deep white matter has been considered as a strong correlate of PSD. We provide here a critical overview of neuroimaging and neuropathological sets of evidence regarding the affective repercussions of vascular burden in the aging brain and discuss their conceptual and methodological limitations. Based on these observations, we propose that the accumulation of small vascular and microvascular lesions constitutes a common neuropathological platform for both cognitive decline and depressive episodes in old age.
Vascular burden; Cognitive impairment; Aging; Mood; Microvascular pathology; Lacunes
den Dunnen et al. [den Dunnen, W.F.A., Brouwer, W.H., Bijlard, E., Kamphuis, J., van Linschoten, K., Eggens-Meijer, E., Holstege, G., 2008. No disease in the brain of a 115-year-old woman. Neurobiol. Aging] had the opportunity to follow up the cognitive functioning of one of the world’s oldest woman during the last 3 years of her life. They performed two neuropsychological evaluations at age 112 and 115 that revealed a striking preservation of immediate recall abilities and orientation. In contrast, working memory, retrieval from semantic memory and mental arithmetic performances declined after age 112. Overall, only a one-point decrease of MMSE score occurred (from 27 to 26) reflecting the remarkable preservation of cognitive abilities. The neuropathological assessment showed few neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) in the hippocampal formation compatible with Braak staging II, absence of amyloid deposits and other types of neurodegenerative lesions as well as preservation of neuron numbers in locus coeruleus. This finding was related to a striking paucity of Alzheimer disease (AD)-related lesions in the hippocampal formation. The present report parallels the early descriptions of rare “supernormal” centenarians supporting the dissociation between brain aging and AD processes. In conjunction with recent stereological analyses in cases aged from 90 to 102 years, it also points to the marked resistance of the hippocampal formation to the degenerative process in this age group and possible dissociation between the occurrence of slight cognitive deficits and development of AD-related pathologic changes in neocortical areas. This work is discussed in the context of current efforts to identify the biological and genetic parameters of human longevity.
Disease; Brain aging; Centenarians; Longevity; Neuronal vulnerability
Background and purpose
Most of the neuropathological studies in brain aging were based on the assumption of a symmetric right-left hemisphere distribution of both Alzheimer's disease (AD) and vascular pathology. To explore the impact of asymmetric lesion formation on cognition, we performed a clinicopathological analysis of 153 cases with mixed pathology except macroinfarcts.
Cognitive status was assessed prospectively using the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scale; neuropathological evaluation included assessment of Braak neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) and Aß-deposition staging, microvascular pathology and lacunes. The right-left hemisphere differences in neuropathological scores were evaluated using the Wilcoxon signed rank test. The relationship between the interhemispheric distribution of lesions and CDR scores was assessed using ordered logistic regression.
Unlike Braak NFT and Aß deposition staging, vascular scores were significantly higher in the left hemisphere for all CDR scores. A negative relationship was found between Braak NFT, but not Aß, staging and vascular scores in cases with moderate to severe dementia. In both hemispheres, Braak NFT staging was the main determinant of cognitive decline followed by vascular scores and Aß deposition staging. The concomitant predominance of AD and vascular pathology in the right hemisphere was associated with significantly higher CDR scores.
Our data show that the cognitive impact of AD and vascular lesions in mixed cases may be assessed unilaterally without major information loss. However, interhemispheric differences and, in particular, increased vascular and AD burden in the right hemisphere may increase the risk for dementia in this group.
Alzheimer; cerebral infarct; cognition; white matter disease
The loss of presynaptic markers is thought to represent a strong pathologic correlate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Spinophilin is a postsynaptic marker mainly located to the heads of dendritic spines. We assessed total numbers of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in the CA1 and CA3 fields of hippocampus and area 9 in 18 elderly individuals with various degrees of cognitive decline. The decrease in spinophilin-immunoreactivity was significantly related to both Braak neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) staging and clinical severity but not Aβ deposition staging. The total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in CA1 field and area 9 were significantly related to MMSE scores and predicted 23.5% and 61.9% of its variability. The relationship between total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in CA1 field and MMSE scores did not persist when adjusting for Braak NFT staging. In contrast, the total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in area 9 was still significantly related to the cognitive outcome explaining an extra 9.6% of MMSE and 25.6% of the Clinical Dementia Rating scores variability. Our data suggest that neocortical dendritic spine loss is an independent parameter to consider in AD clinicopathologic correlations.
Alzheimer’s disease; cognition; synapses; tangles
Clinicopathologic correlation studies are critically important for the field of Alzheimer disease (AD) research. Studies on human subjects with autopsy confirmation entail numerous potential biases that affect both their general applicability and the validity of the correlations. Many sources of data variability can weaken the apparent correlation between cognitive status and AD neuropathologic changes. Indeed, most persons in advanced old age have significant non-AD brain lesions that may alter cognition independently of AD. Worldwide research efforts have evaluated thousands of human subjects to assess the causes of cognitive impairment in the elderly, and these studies have been interpreted in different ways. We review the literature focusing on the correlation of AD neuropathologic changes (i.e. β-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) with cognitive impairment. We discuss the various patterns of brain changes that have been observed in elderly individuals to provide a perspective for understanding AD clinicopathologic correlation and conclude that evidence from many independent research centers strongly supports the existence of a specific disease, as defined by the presence of Aβ plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Although Aβ plaques may play a key role in AD pathogenesis, the severity of cognitive impairment correlates best with the burden of neocortical neurofibrillary tangles.
Aging; Alzheimer disease; Amyloid; Dementia; Epidemiology; Neuropathology; MAPT; Neurofibrillary tangles
Professional boxers and other contact sport athletes are exposed to repetitive brain trauma that may affect motor functions, cognitive performance, emotional regulation and social awareness. The term of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was recently introduced to regroup a wide spectrum of symptoms such as cerebellar, pyramidal, and extrapyramidal syndromes, impairments in orientation, memory, language, attention, information processing and frontal executive functions, as well as personality changes and behavioural and psychiatric symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) usually reveals hippocampal and vermis atrophy, a cavum septum pellucidum (CSP), signs of diffuse axonal injury, pituitary gland atrophy, dilated perivascular spaces, and periventricular white matter disease. Given the partial overlapping of the clinical expression, epidemiology, and pathogenesis of CTE and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), as well as the close association between traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and neurofibrillary tangle formation, a mixed pathology promoted by pathogenetic cascades resulting in either CTE or AD has been postulated. Molecular studies suggested that TBIs increase the neurotoxicity of the TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) that is a key pathological marker of ubiquitin-positive forms of frontotemporal dementia (FTLD-TDP) associated or not with motor neuron disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (MND/ALS). Similar patterns of immunoreactivity for TDP-43 in CTE, FTLD-TDP, and ALS as well as epidemiological correlations support the presence of common pathogenetic mechanisms. The present review provides a critical update of the evolution of the concept of CTE with reference to its neuropathological definition together with an in depth discussion of the differential diagnosis between this entity, AD and frontotemporal dementia.
chronic traumatic encephalopathy; traumatic brain injuries; boxing; contact sports; Alzheimer’s disease; frontotemporal dementia; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Hippocampal atrophy and neuron loss are commonly found in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, the underlying molecular mechanisms and the fate in the AD hippocampus of subpopulations of interneurons that express the calcium-binding proteins parvalbumin (PV) and calretinin (CR) has not yet been properly assessed. Using quantitative stereologic methods, we analyzed the regional pattern of age-related loss of PV- and CR-immunoreactive (ir) neurons in the hippocampus of mice that carry M233T/L235P knocked-in mutations in presenilin-1 (PS1) and overexpress a mutated human beta-amyloid precursor protein (APP), namely, the APPSL/PS1 KI mice, as well as in APPSL mice and PS1 KI mice. We found a loss of PV-ir neurons (40–50%) in the CA1-2, and a loss of CR-ir neurons (37–52%) in the dentate gyrus and hilus of APPSL/PS1 KI mice. Interestingly, comparable PV- and CR-ir neuron losses were observed in the dentate gyrus of postmortem brain specimens obtained from patients with AD. The loss of these interneurons in AD may have substantial functional repercussions on local inhibitory processes in the hippocampus.
Alzheimer’s disease; Amyloid precursor protein; Calcium-binding proteins; Hippocampus; Presenilin-1; Stereology