Lewy body-related alpha-synucleinopathy in the aged human brain

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2004 Oct;111(10-11):1219-35. doi: 10.1007/s00702-004-0138-7. Epub 2004 Apr 2.


To clarify the significance of Lewy body (LB)-related alpha-synucleinopathy in aging and various neurodegenerative disorders, its incidence and topographic pattern were examined in 260 brains of elderly patients, including 116 autopsy-proven cases of Alzheimer disease (AD), 71 cases of clinically and autopsy-proven Parkinson disease (PD), 38 of dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), 8 patients with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), one with senile tremor, and 26 age-matched controls without neuropsychiatric disorders. Using immunohistochemistry, alpha-synuclein (AS) positive lesions were assessed semiquantitatively. For technical reasons, the olfactory system was not systematically studied. All PD-brains showed AS-positive lesions in medullary, pontine and mesencephalic nuclei, with involvement of the nucleus basalis (90.1%), limbic cortex (58.9%), cingulate cortex (46%), amygdala, CA 2/3 hippocampal region (36.2%), neocortex (28.8%), and striatum (11%). 88% of clinical PD cases corresponded to LB pathology stages 4-6, 12% to stage 3 according to Braak et al. (2003). 84% of DLB brains were PD stage 5 or 6 and 17% stage 4, without significant differences between DLB with and without neuritic AD pathology, suggesting morphologic similarities betwee these disorders. 6/8 PSP and senile tremor cases, 49.1% of AD and 69% of aged controls were negative. AS-positive lesions in AD showed decreasing incidence from midbrain (24-28%), limbic cortex and amygdala (17-18%), nucleus basalis and medullary nuclei (13-17%), cingulate cortex (12%), CA 2/3 region (8%) to neocortex (2%), without gender differences or relationship to the severity of AD pathology (mean Braak stage 5.1). AD cases with AS positive lesions, particularly those with AS pathology in the amygdala, were older at death than negative ones (86.6 vs 83.3 yrs), but this difference was not statistically significant. 15 AD cases (seven of them with mild PD symptoms) and 3 aged controls without parkinsonian signs but LB pathology stages 3 (n=5) and 4 (n=13) were considered "incidental LB disease". 16 AD brains without parkinsonian symptoms had AS positive lesions in various areas without medullary involvement, suggesting deviation from the proposed stereotypic expansion pattern. Located AS-pathology in the midbrain and limbic cortex was seen in 31% of asymptomatic aged controls. These data 1. largely confirm Braak's staging of LB-pathology in PD; 2. suggest morphologic and pathogenic relations between PD (brainstem type) and DLB with and without coexistent AD pathology; 3. the occurrence of LB-related alpha-synucleinopathy in about 50% of AD brains and about 30% of aged controls. However, the basic mechanisms of LB-related AS-pathology and their pathogenic and clinical relevance in aged brain and neurodegenerative disorders await further elucidation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Autopsy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lewy Bodies / pathology*
  • Lewy Body Disease / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement Disorders / pathology*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Reference Values
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Supranuclear Palsy, Progressive / pathology
  • Synucleins
  • alpha-Synuclein


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • SNCA protein, human
  • Synucleins
  • alpha-Synuclein