, Volume 113, Issue 1, pp 53-62
Date: 10 Oct 2006

Tau and α-synuclein brainstem pathology in Alzheimer disease: relation with extrapyramidal signs

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Abstract

Extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS) in Alzheimer disease (AD) often increase with disease severity. Their neuropathological substrate is a matter of discussion. We investigated tau and α-synuclein (AS) pathologies in brainstem in AD patients with and without EPS. Among 160 elderly subjects with autopsy-proven AD (110 female, 50 male, aged 61–102, mean 84.1 ± 8.3 SD years), 151 (94.4%) being demented, 35 (21.9%) had clinically reported EPS (rigidity, bradykinesia, gait impairment). Neuropathological examination included standardized classification of AD according to current criteria, and semiquantitative assessment of neuronal loss in substantia nigra (SN), locus coeruleus (LC), and of tau and AS lesions in brainstem, and, in addition, of cerebrovascular lesions. The prevalence of EPS was only slightly more frequent in higher Braak stages. Tau pathology in brainstem significantly increased with increasing Braak stages, while AS lesions did not. EPS correlated best with SN cell loss (P < 0.001) and much less with AS pathology in several brain areas (P < 0.05), except in medulla oblongata (P < 0.001). Although both pathologies in substantia nigra correlated with neuron loss (P < 0.001), nigral tau lesions, present in 88.5% of EPS positive cases (without AS lesions in 55.6%), did not correlate with EPS. Additional cerebrovascular changes apparently did not influence the development of EPS symptoms in fully developed AD. With other recent data, these results suggest that neuronal loss in SN, partly related to tau lesions, is a major pathological substrate of EPS in AD, but some cases with and without EPS may show no or only minimal nigral changes. However, often associated with nigral tau lesions and higher Braak stages, EPS in elderly patients may be a surrogate marker for severe neuritic AD pathology.