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Quantitative analysis of neuropathologic changes in the cerebral cortex of centenarians.

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Geriatric Hospital, University of Geneva, Switzerland.


1. The quantitative distribution of neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques was studied in the brains of 65 elderly patients aged from 96 to 104 years by immunohistochemistry. 2. According to the clinical and neuropathological diagnoses, three groups of cases were considered: 19 patients with Alzheimer's disease, 22 patients with mixed dementia (vascular and degenerative) and 24 patients with no or very mild cognitive impairment. 3. Moderate to high neurofibrillary tangle densities were always present in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. The inferior temporal cortex was very frequently affected in demented and non-demented cases whereas the superior frontal cortex was spared in the majority of cases independently of the clinical diagnosis. Quantitatively, Alzheimer's disease cases showed significantly higher NFT densities than cases with no clinical findings of dementia only in the CA1 field of the hippocampus. 4. The hippocampus and entorhinal cortex were often devoid of senile plaques in non-demented cases while the vast majority of Alzheimer's disease cases had few SP in these regions. The frontal and temporal cortex were more frequently involved than the limbic structures in both non-demented and Alzheimer's disease cases. The SP densities in layers II and III of the inferior temporal and superior frontal cortex were significantly higher in Alzheimer's disease than in non-demented cases. 5. These observations suggest that the dementing process in nonagenarians and centenarians may differ to that described in younger demented individuals in that neurofibrillary tangles involve principally the hippocampal formation with relative sparing of the neocortex. Furthermore, they indicate that both the neurofibrillary tangle densities in the CA1 field and senile plaque densities in the superficial layers of the neocortex must be considered for the neuropathological diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in this age group.

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