Journal of Neurology

, Volume 246, Supplement 2, pp II6–II15 | Cite as

Neuropathologic differentiation of progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration

  • D. W. Dickson


Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal degeneration (CBD) are usually sporadic multisystem degenerations associated with filamentous tau inclusions in neurons and glia. As such they can be considered sporadic tauopathies in contrast to familial tauopathies linked to mutations in the tau gene. Mutations have not been found in the tau gene in either PSP or CBD. The clinical syndromes and neuroimaging of typical cases of PSP and CBD are distinct; however, atypical cases are described that have overlapping clinical and pathologic features. Both PSP and CBD have similar biochemical alterations in the tau protein, with the abnormal tau protein containing predominantly four-repeat tau. While there is overlap in the pathology in PSP and CBD, there are sufficient differences to continue the present day trend to consider these separate disorders. Several important pathologic features differentiate PSP from CBD. Ballooned neurons are frequent and nearly a sine qua non for CBD, but they are found in PSP at a frequency similar to that of other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Astrocytic lesions are different, with tufted astrocytes found in motor cortex and striatum in PSP and astrocytic plaques in focal atrophic cortices in CBD. The most characteristic neuronal tau pathology in CBD is wispy, fine filamentous inclusions within neuronal cell bodies, while affected neurons in PSP have compact, dense filamentous aggregates characteristic of globose neurofibrillary tangles. Thread-like processes in gray and white matter are much more numerous and widespread in CBD than in PSP. The brunt of the pathology in CBD is in the cerebrum, while the basal ganglia, diencephalon and brainstem are the targets of PSP. Further clinicopathologic studies will refine our understanding of these disorders and open the possibility that common etiologic factors may be identified for these unusual sporadic tauopathies.

Key words

Corticobasal degeneration Progressive supranuclear palsy Tau Neuropathology 


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© Steinkopff Verlag 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PathologyMayo Clinic JacksonvilleJacksonvilleUSA

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