In a study of 17 patients with histologically proven Alzheimer's disease the relationship between psychological, pathological and chemical measures of disorder was examined. Severity of dementia, determined by mental test performance, correlated highly with pathological change in large cortical neurons (cell loss and reduction in nuclear and nucleolar volume and cytoplasmic RNA content), to a lesser extent with cortical senile plaque and neurofibrillary tangle frequency and reduction in acetylcholine (ACh) synthesis, and not with reduction in choline acetyltransferase (CAT) activity. A strongly significant relationship was demonstrated between cell loss and reductions in nuclear and nucleolar volume and cytoplasmic RNA content. Reduction in CAT activity and senile plaque frequency were significantly correlated, thereby linking changes in the sub-cortical projection system of the nucleus basalis with the cortical pathology. The pattern of correlations suggests that the dementia of Alzheimer's disease is largely a reflection of the state of large cortical neurons, and it is argued that abnormalities in the latter may not be directly related to primary loss of cholinergic neurons in the subcortex.
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