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Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Feb;60(2):139-65.

The cause of neuronal degeneration in Alzheimer's disease.

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Neurobiology Laboratory, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.


Alzheimer's disease is associated with a specific pattern of pathological changes in the brain that result in neurodegeneration and the progressive development of dementia. Pathological hallmarks common to the disease include beta-amyloid plaques, dystrophic neurites associated with plaques and neurofibrillary tangles within nerve cell bodies. The exact relationship between these pathological features has been elusive, although it is clear that beta-amyloid plaques precede neurofibrillary tangles in neocortical areas. Examination of the brains of individuals in the preclinical stage of the disease have shown that the earliest form of neuronal pathology associated with beta-amyloid plaques resembles the cellular changes that follow structural injury to axons. Thus, the development of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain may cause physical damage to axons, and the abnormally prolonged stimulation of the neuronal response to this kind of injury ultimately results in the profound cytoskeletal alterations that underlie neurofibrillary pathology and neurodegeneration. Therapeutically, inhibition of the neuronal reaction to physical trauma may be a useful neuroprotective strategy in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease.

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