, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 846-868
Date: 05 Jan 2012

Dysfunctional Nucleus Tractus Solitarius: Its Crucial Role in Promoting Neuropathogentic Cascade of Alzheimer’s Dementia—A Novel Hypothesis

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The pathophysiological mechanism(s) underlying Alzheimer’s disease (AD) still remain unclear, and no disease-modifying or prophylactic therapies are currently available. Unraveling the fundamental neuropathogenesis of AD is an important challenge. Several studies on AD have suggested lesions in a number of CNS areas including the basal forebrain, hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, amygdale/insula, and the locus coeruleus. However, plausible unifying studies on the upstream factors that involve these heterogeneous regions and herald the onset of AD pathogenesis are not available. The current article presents a novel nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) vector hypothesis that underpins several disparate biological mechanisms and neural circuits, and identifies relevant hallmarks of major presumptive causative factor(s) linked to the NTS, in older/aging individuals. Aging, obesity, infection, sleep apnea, smoking, neuropsychological states, and hypothermia—all activate inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress. The synergistic impact of systemic proinflammatory mediators activates microglia and promotes neuroinflammation. Acutely, the innate immune response is protective defending against pathogens/toxins; however, when chronic, it causes neuroinflammation and neuronal dysfunction, particularly in brainstem and neocortex. The NTS in the brainstem is an essential multiple signaling hub, and an extremely important central integration site of baroreceptor, chemoreceptor, and a multitude of sensory afferents from gustatory, gastrointestinal, cardiac, pulmonary, and upper airway systems. Owing to persistent neuroinflammation, the dysfunctional NTS exerts deleterious impact on nucleus ambiguus, dorsal motor nucleus of vagus, hypoglossal, parabrachial, locus coeruleus and many key nuclei in the brainstem, and the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and basal forebrain in the neocortex. The neuronal and synaptic dysfunction emanating from the inflamed NTS may affect its interconnected pathways impacting almost the entire CNS—which is already primed by neuroinflammation, thus promoting cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms. The upstream factors discussed here may underpin the neuropathopgenesis of AD. AD pathology is multifactorial; the current perspective underscores the value of attenuating disparate upstream factors—in conjunction with anticholinesterase, anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, and anti-oxidant pharmacotherapy. Amelioration of the NTS pathology may be of central importance in countering the neuropathological cascade of AD. The NTS, therefore, may be a potential target of novel therapeutic strategies.