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Neurobiol Aging. 1992 Nov-Dec;13(6):723-34.

Nature of mental retardation and dementia in Down syndrome: study with PET, CT, and neuropsychology.

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  • 1Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging, Clinical Center, Bethesda, MD 20892.


Recent evidence suggests that Alzheimer's disease is an etiologically heterogeneous disorder. A human model of Alzheimer's disease exists that avoids such problems of etiologic heterogeneity. Down syndrome (DS), trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder in which an extra portion of chromosome 21 leads to mental retardation, short stature, and phenotypic abnormalities. Prior investigations by others have shown that DS subjects over 40 years of age demonstrate neuropathologic and neurochemical defects postmortem that are virtually indistinguishable from those found in brains of Alzheimer's disease patients and a universal cognitive deterioration more severe in demented than nondemented older DS subjects. In our study, these nondemented older DS subjects show a distinctive pattern of age-related deficits, while a more global pattern is seen in demented older DS subjects. Dementia occurs in 40% of older DS subjects. We find that in older demented DS subjects positron emission tomography (PET) shows identical patterns of abnormal glucose metabolism as those described previously in Alzheimer's disease patients, selectively involving the phylogenetically newer association areas of parietal and temporal neocortices but sparing primary sensory and motor regions. Further, we find in older demented DS patients quantitative computer-assisted tomography (CT) indicates accelerated neuronal loss and brain atrophy, similar to that previously shown in Alzheimer's disease patients. As a potential use of the DS model, we observed a case of DS with dementia but without mental retardation. This case suggests that expression of dementia in DS may involve genes on chromosome 21 other than in the "obligatory" distal segment of the q arm. Alternatively, differential expression of genes on the q arm of chromosome 21 might cause dementia without phenotypic features and mental retardation.

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