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Plaque biogenesis in brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. II. Progressive transformation and developmental sequence of dystrophic neurites

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Plaque-associated dystrophic neurites are a common pathological feature in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In the present study, we investigated the relative abundance and progressive transformation of the amyloid precursor protein (APP), neurofilament (NF) and paired helical filament (PHF) tau-positive dystrophic neurites, within plaques in non-demented controls versus plaque-associated dystrophic neurites in mild or severe AD using double and triple immunolabeling. We also determined the argentophilia of the various sub-populations of dystrophic neurites. In aged non-demented brain, approximately half of the APP-positive plaques contained NF-immunopositive dystrophic neurites; rarely were PHF/tau-positive dystrophic neurites detectable. In contrast, in the AD brain, three-fourths of the APP-positive plaques contained NF-positive dystrophic neurites and half contained PHF/tau neurites. We also observed focal patches of hyper-phosphorylated NF and/or PHF/tau within APP-immunopositive dystrophic neurites, which appeared similar to retrograde degeneration, whereas we never observed focal accumulations of APP within NF- or PHF/tau-positive fibers. We hypothesize that plaque-associated dystrophic neurites within plaques develop in a particular sequence: APP-positive dystrophic neurites appear first and are non-argentophilic. This is followed by the appearance of NF-positive dystrophic neurites, where a subset of NF-positive dystrophic neurites are lightly argentophilic. Over time, PHF/tau-positive dystrophic neurites develop and are strongly argentophilic. These data suggest that dystrophic neurites can develop retrogradely from focal plaque damage to induce somatic and dendritic degeneration and potentially contribute to neurofibrillary tangle formation.

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Received: 22 September 1997 / Revised, accepted: 15 April 1998

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Su, J., Cummings, B. & Cotman, C. Plaque biogenesis in brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. II. Progressive transformation and developmental sequence of dystrophic neurites. Acta Neuropathol 96, 463–471 (1998).

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