Cognitive deficits in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are closely related to disturbed cholinergic transmission. The decrease of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor protein has been assessed by Western blotting and immunohistochemistry. Stereology, however, has not been used to assess numbers of receptor-expressing human cerebrocortical neurons. Our approach applies a combination of alpha7 subunit-immunohistochemistry with a stereological technique using defined stretches of pial surface as reference standard. The number of alpha7 subunit protein-expressing neurons in the Alzheimer temporal cortices amounted to approximately half of that of controls while numbers in Parkinson patients lay in between. No differences in the total number of neurons were seen. These results corroborate nonstereological studies on Alzheimer cortices and for the first time show a similar decrease in receptor expression in Parkinson's disease. They provide evidence that not only Alzheimer dementia but also cognitive deficits in Parkinson's disease may be related to decreased nicotinic receptor expression.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.