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Neuropathology of dementia in patients with Parkinson’s disease: a systematic review of autopsy studies
  1. Callum Smith1,
  2. Naveed Malek2,
  3. Katherine Grosset1,
  4. Breda Cullen3,
  5. Steve Gentleman4,
  6. Donald G Grosset1
  1. 1 Department of Neurology, Institute of Neurosciences, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2 Department of Neurology, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, Ipswich, UK
  3. 3 Institute of Health and Wellbeing, College of Medical, Veterinary, and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  4. 4 Neuropathology Unit, Division of Brain Sciences, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Mr Callum Smith, Neurology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G51 4TF, UK; c.smith.3{at}


Background Dementia is a common, debilitating feature of late Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD dementia (PDD) is associated with α-synuclein propagation, but coexistent Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology may coexist. Other pathologies (cerebrovascular, transactive response DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43)) may also influence cognition. We aimed to describe the neuropathology underlying dementia in PD.

Methods Systematic review of autopsy studies published in English involving PD cases with dementia. Comparison groups included PD without dementia, AD, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and healthy controls.

Results 44 reports involving 2002 cases, 57.2% with dementia, met inclusion criteria. While limbic and neocortical α-synuclein pathology had the strongest association with dementia, between a fifth and a third of all PD cases in the largest studies had comorbid AD. In PD cases with dementia, tau pathology was moderate or severe in around a third, and amyloid-β pathology was moderate or severe in over half. Amyloid-β was associated with a more rapid cognitive decline and earlier mortality, and in the striatum, distinguished PDD from DLB. Positive correlations between multiple measures of α-synuclein, tau and amyloid-β were found. Cerebrovascular and TDP-43 pathologies did not generally contribute to dementia in PD. TDP-43 and amyloid angiopathy correlated with coexistent Alzheimer pathology.

Conclusions While significant α-synuclein pathology is the main substrate of dementia in PD, coexistent pathologies are common. In particular, tau and amyloid-β pathologies independently contribute to the development and pattern of cognitive decline in PD. Their presence should be assessed in future clinical trials where dementia is a key outcome measure.

Trial registration number CRD42018088691.

  • Parkinson's disease
  • dementia
  • neuropathology

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  • Contributors CS, BC and DG contributed to the planning, conduct and reporting of the work. NM and KG contributed to the conduct and reporting. SG contributed to the reporting.

  • Funding Funding support for this review was provided by the Neurosciences Foundation (SCO11199; project number 173503).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.