Does smoking protect from Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer-type changes in 301 unselected brains from patients with known smoking history
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The objective of this report is to investigate whether smoking exerts any influence on the number of senile plaques and Alzheimer neurofibrillary tangles. A retrospective study was based on unselected consecutive autopsy findings on the brains of 301 patients aged 65 years or older examined at the Institute of Pathology, Basel. Brains were investigated according to a fixed protocol. Histological examination was performed on 15 paraffin-embedded tissue blocks per brain using staining with silver impregnation specific for Alzheimer neurofibrillary tangles and for senile plaques, and Alzheimer-type changes were quantified. Retrospective assessment of smoking history was also based on a fixed protocol. Statistical analysis of the relationship between the smoking habits and the amount of Alzheimer-type changes was performed and included analysis of 72 age- and sex-matched smoker-nonsmoker pairs from within the total of 301 cases to compensate for variations in these changes due to age/sex alone. The influence of smoking on the total of 301 cases cannot be proven statistically. But a protective action against senile plaque formation could be demonstrated in 28 age matched pairs of smoking-nonsmoking women. Furthermore a positive correlation between the amount of smoking and the neurofibrillary changes as expressed in Braak stages in smokers of both sexes was present. Thus, there seems to be an influence of nicotine on the structural alterations of Alzheimer’s disease which can exert itself in opposite directions.
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