Alpha-synuclein pathology does not predict extrapyramidal symptoms or dementia

Ann Neurol. 2005 Jan;57(1):82-91. doi: 10.1002/ana.20321.


Intracytoplasmic aggregation of alpha-synuclein protein as Lewy bodies in the brainstem neurons is diagnostic for Parkinson's disease, whereas if this process also occurs in the cortical neurons, it is considered pathognomonic for dementia with Lewy bodies. However, the link between alpha-synuclein incorporation into inclusions, neuronal dysfunction, and clinical symptoms needs to be clarified. Another important issue of the pathogenetic puzzle is to understand where alpha-synuclein pathology begins and how it progresses in the brain. To study this, we collected all cases from autopsy material (N = 904) that had alpha-synuclein pathology in the dorsal motor nucleus of vagus, substantia nigra, and/or basal forebrain nuclei. In this way, our study has a unique design because the selection of material is entirely based on the presence of alpha-synuclein pathology regardless of clinical phenotype. Retrospective clinical assessment then showed that only 32 (30%) of 106 alpha-synuclein-positive cases were diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder. The distribution or load of alpha-synuclein pathology did not permit a dependable postmortem diagnosis of extrapyramidal symptoms or cognitive impairment. Some neurologically unimpaired cases had a reasonable burden of alpha-synuclein pathology in both brainstem and cortical areas, suggesting that alpha-synuclein-positive structures are not definite markers of neuronal dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Basal Ganglia Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Basal Ganglia Diseases / metabolism
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism
  • Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Dementia / metabolism
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Inclusion Bodies / metabolism*
  • Inclusion Bodies / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Synucleins
  • alpha-Synuclein


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