The distribution and tempo of neuronal loss in Parkinson's disease correlates poorly with the characteristic and more widely spread intracellular changes associated with the disease process (Lewy bodies and Lewy neurites). To determine early intracellular changes in regions where cell loss is most marked (dopaminergic A9 substantia nigra) versus regions with Lewy bodies but where cell loss is limited, we assessed 13 patients with definite Parkinson's disease at various disease stages in comparison with controls. Using immunohistochemistry for alpha-synuclein, we confirmed the concentration of this protein in the soma of normal A9 neurons and in Lewy body pathology in brainstem catecholamine neurons in Parkinson's disease. Analysis of the degree of cell loss in brainstem catecholamine cell groups revealed that only the A9 substantia nigra had consistent significant cell loss early in the disease course with greater A9 cell loss correlating with increasing disease duration. To assess the earliest intracellular changes differentiating neurons more likely to degenerate, pigmented A9 and A10 neurons with and without obvious pathology were targeted, cell size and pigment density measured, and intracellular changes in alpha-synuclein location and lipid components analysed at both the light and electron microscope levels. There were no changes observed in healthy A10 neurons in Parkinson's disease compared with controls. Pigmented A9 neurons in later stages of degeneration with obvious Lewy body formation had a significant reduction in intracellular pigment, as previously described. In contrast, A9 neurons of normal morphological appearance and no characteristic pathology in Parkinson's disease exhibited significantly increased pigment density associated with a concentration of alpha-synuclein to the lipid component of the pigment and a loss of associated cholesterol. These changes in vulnerable but apparently healthy A9 neurons occurred without any change in cell size or in the amount of intracellular pigment compared with controls. The increase in pigment density is consistent with previously reported increases associated with oxidation and iron loading, reactions known to precipitate alpha-synuclein. The selectivity of the changes observed in A9 nigral neurons suggests that these early intracellular changes predispose these neurons to more rapid cell loss in Parkinson's disease. The increased concentration of neuronal alpha-synuclein and pigment in normal A9 neurons may already predispose these neurons to precipitate alpha-synuclein around pigment-associated lipid under oxidative conditions. Overall, these changes may trigger a cascade of events leading to larger intracellular aggregates of alpha-synuclein and the dispersement of protective pigment to precipitate cell death in Parkinson's disease.
We sought further understanding of the significance of cofilin rods/aggregates to the disease process: Do rods/aggregates correlate with AD progression and the development of hallmark neurofibrillary tangles and neuropil threads? Are cofilin rods/aggregates found in the same neurites as hyperphosphorylated tau? Cofilin rods and aggregates signify events initiated early in the pathological cascade. Further definition of the mechanisms leading to their formation in the human brain will provide insights into the cellular causes of AD.
To determine the frequency of a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9ORF72, a gene of unknown function implicated in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), in Australian FTD patient cohorts and to examine the clinical and neuropathologic phenotypes associated with this expansion. The C9ORF72 repeat expansion is a relatively common cause of FTD in Australian populations, and is especially common in those with FTD-ALS, psychotic features, and a strong family history. Detection of a repeat expansion on the 9p21 putative "nonrisk" haplotype suggests that not all mutation carriers are necessarily descended from a common founder and indicates that the expansion may have occurred on multiple haplotype backgrounds.
An increase in DNA content is associated with neuronal degeneration in Alzheimer's disease but has not been evaluated in Lewy body diseases. Using stereological principles, flow cytometry, and standard histopathologic methods, we evaluated the number and DNA content of neurons and all cells and the severity of Lewy and Alzheimer pathologies, in brain regions affected at different stages in Lewy body diseases compared with controls. An increase in neuronal DNA content was observed in all the affected brain regions examined, although this change was related to different pathologies. In the substantia nigra, increased neuronal DNA content related to neuronal loss, whereas in the cortex and hippocampus, increased neuronal DNA content related to Alzheimer pathologies. Of note, increased neuronal DNA content did not relate to the deposition of Lewy bodies in any region examined. These data support the concept that increased DNA content increases neuronal susceptibility to degeneration and Alzheimer pathologies.
The pathological sequestration of TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43, encoded by TARDBP) into cytoplasmic pathological inclusions characterizes the distinct clinical syndromes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia, while also co-occurring in a proportion of patients with Alzheimer's disease, suggesting that the regional concentration of TDP-43 pathology has most relevance to specific clinical phenotypes. This has been reflected in the three different pathological staging schemes for TDP-43 pathology in these different clinical syndromes, with none of these staging schemes including a preclinical phase similar to that which has proven beneficial in other neurodegenerative diseases. To apply each of these three staging schemes for TDP-43 pathology, the clinical phenotype must be known undermining the potential predictive value of the pathological examination. The present study set out to test whether a more unified approach could accurately predict clinical phenotypes based solely on the regional presence and severity of TDP-43 pathology. The selection of brain regions of interest was based on key regions routinely sampled for neuropathological assessment under current consensus criteria that have also been used in the three TDP-43 staging schemes. The severity of TDP-43 pathology in these regions of interest was assessed in four clinicopathological phenotypes: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (n = 27, 47-78 years, 15 males), behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (n = 15, 49-82 years, seven males), Alzheimer's disease (n = 26, 51-90 years, 11 males) and cognitively normal elderly individuals (n = 17, 80-103 years, nine males). Our results demonstrate that the presence of TDP-43 in the hypoglossal nucleus discriminates patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with an accuracy of 98%. The severity of TDP-43 deposited in the anterior cingulate cortex identifies patients with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia with an accuracy of 99%. This identification of regional pathology associated with distinct clinical phenotypes suggests key regions on which probabilistic pathological criteria, similar to those currently available for Alzheimer's disease and dementia with Lewy bodies, can be developed for TDP-43 proteinopathies. We propose and validate a simplified probabilistic statement that involves grading the presence of TDP-43 in the hypoglossal nucleus and the severity of TDP-43 in the anterior cingulate for the pathological identification of TDP-43 proteinopathy cases with clinical amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by synapse loss due to mechanisms that remain poorly understood. We show that the neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2) is enriched in synapses in the human hippocampus. This enrichment is abolished in the hippocampus of AD patients and in brains of mice overexpressing the human amyloid-β (Aβ) precursor protein carrying the pathogenic Swedish mutation. Aβ binds to NCAM2 at the cell surface of cultured hippocampal neurons and induces removal of NCAM2 from synapses. In AD hippocampus, cleavage of the membrane proximal external region of NCAM2 is increased and soluble extracellular fragments of NCAM2 (NCAM2-ED) accumulate. Knockdown of NCAM2 expression or incubation with NCAM2-ED induces disassembly of GluR1-containing glutamatergic synapses in cultured hippocampal neurons. Aβ-dependent disassembly of GluR1-containing synapses is inhibited in neurons overexpressing a cleavage-resistant mutant of NCAM2. Our data indicate that Aβ-dependent disruption of NCAM2 functions in AD hippocampus contributes to synapse loss.