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Neuropathology. 2001 Mar;21(1):1-12.

What does the study of the spatial patterns of pathological lesions tell us about the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders?

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  • 1Vision Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham, UK.


Discrete pathological lesions, which include extracellular protein deposits, intracellular inclusions and changes in cell morphology, occur in the brain in the majority of neurodegenerative disorders. These lesions are not randomly distributed in the brain but exhibit a spatial pattern, that is, a departure from randomness towards regularity or clustering. The spatial pattern of a lesion may reflect pathological processes affecting particular neuroanatomical structures and, therefore, studies of spatial pattern may help to elucidate the pathogenesis of a lesion and of the disorders themselves. The present article reviews first, the statistical methods used to detect spatial patterns and second, the types of spatial patterns exhibited by pathological lesions in a variety of disorders which include Alzheimer's disease, Down syndrome, dementia with Lewy bodies, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Pick's disease and corticobasal degeneration. These studies suggest that despite the morphological and molecular diversity of brain lesions, they often exhibit a common type of spatial pattern (i.e. aggregation into clusters that are regularly distributed in the tissue). The pathogenic implications of spatial pattern analysis are discussed with reference to the individual disorders and to studies of neurodegeneration as a whole.

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