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Acta Neuropathol. 1992;83(3):271-6.

Selective loss of nigral neurons in Alzheimer's disease: a morphometric study.

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Department of Neuropathology, Psychiatric Research Institute of Tokyo, Japan.


Loss of neurons from the substantia nigra (SN), which is sometimes observed in Alzheimer's disease (AD), was quantitatively analyzed in 10 cases of presenile AD and 19 age-matched controls. On sections from the upper and lower portions of the SN, the pigmented zone (zona compacta) and the non-pigmented zone (zona reticulata) were delineated, and these zones were partitioned into quarters: medial, mid-medial, mid-lateral and lateral. This approach clarified topographical preference of neuronal depletion in the SN of AD; namely (1) pigmented neurons were more severely affected than non-pigmented neurons, (2) neuronal depletion was more marked in the lower SN (-38%, P less than 0.001), where the pigmented neurons in the medial quarter were most severely affected (-51%, P less than 0.001), (3) in the upper SN (neuronal loss: -21%, P less than 0.01), the pigmented neurons in the mid-medial quarter were most severely affected (-43%, P less than 0.01). These findings suggest that some groups of nigral neurons are primarily involved in presenile AD. Gallyas staining after bleaching of melanin pigments uncovered a large number of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) mainly in the pigmented zone, especially in the medial quarter. A large number of NFTs, scarse senile plaques, and substantial depletion of neurons form an unique combination of Alzheimer pathology in the SN not well recognized so far.

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