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Brain Res. 1993 Oct 15;625(1):125-38.

Immunocytochemical distribution of peptidergic and cholinergic fibers in the human amygdala: their depletion in Alzheimer's disease and morphologic alteration in non-demented elderly with numerous senile plaques.

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Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush Presb., St. Luke Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612.


As part of an ongoing investigation devoted to understanding the pathogenesis of senile plaques, we employed histochemical and immunocytochemical techniques to examine the distribution and cytologic features of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), somatostatin (SOM), neurotensin (NT) and substance P (SP) containing fibers and neurons within the amygdala of: (1) patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD); (2) age-matched non-demented controls (NC); and (3) a group of non-demented cases, who upon postmortem neuropathologic examination exhibited sufficient numbers of senile plaques to be classified as AD. This latter group was referred to as high plaque non-demented (HPND). For every case, the distribution of immunolabeled fibers and neurons were determined for each transmitter throughout the various subnuclei of the amygdala. In addition, in the AD and HPND cases the topographic distribution of senile plaques was determined throughout the amygdala using thioflavine-S and Bielschowsky silver methods. In the amygdala, the distribution and density of senile plaques were not bound by conventional cytoarchitectural groupings but rather were most dense in the ventromedial regions of the amygdala with decreasing density in dorsal and lateral directions. Importantly, the density and distribution of senile plaques failed to correlate with the normal topography and/or density of the various peptidergic or cholinergic fibers within the amygdala. The finding that plaques do not correlate with the topographic distribution of any specific transmitter system suggests that plaques likely do not arise from the degeneration of a single neurotransmitter system (i.e., the cholinergic system). However, the finding that in AD a transmitter is most markedly depleted in regions of greatest plaque density, suggests certain constituents of the plaque (e.g. beta-amyloid) may be contributing to the degeneration of local fibers. The extent to which a transmitter was depleted in AD patients varied considerably among those four investigated with the cholinergic and NT systems displaying the most dramatic reductions, followed by SP and SOM. Despite these differential reductions in fiber density, all four neurotransmitters were found localized within dystrophic neurites and in most instances these dystrophic neurites were associated with thioflavine-positive senile plaques. In contrast to the AD cases, the HPND cases were characterized by no significant reductions in immunolabeled fibers, although immunostained dystrophic neurites were very prevalent in the HPND cases. These data suggest that dystrophic neurites occur very early in the disease process and likely precede the actual loss of fibers when or if it occurs.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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