Atrophy of the cerebral cortex in Huntington's disease is regionally heterogeneous and progressive, involving the entire cerebral mantle in terminal stages. Here, two areas (9 and 46) of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex were analyzed in 11 late-stage (grades 3 or 4) Huntington's diseased patients and 8 normal control subjects. We used a 3-dimensional cell counting method to assess laminar cell density, number, and width. Reductions in overall cortical thickness in areas 9 (26%) and 46 (23%) were comparable. Area 9 exhibited loss of projection neurons in layers III (16%), V (31%), and VI (37%); these same layers were also reduced in width (25%, 34%, and 46%, respectively). In area 46, reductions in cortical width in layers II (18%) and VI (35%) were not accompanied by neuronal loss. Glial density was increased in deeper layers, reaching significance in layer VI (68%) of area 9 and in layer V (75%) of area 46; glial number was not altered. Thus, area 46 exhibited marked cortical thinning without apparent neuronal degeneration, whereas in area 9 neuronal loss was pronounced, consistent with an advanced phase of cortical pathology. Prominent involvement of corticothalamic neurons is discussed in the context of striatal loop circuitry and a possible pathologic cascade of cortical degeneration.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.