The topographical and neuroanatomical distribution of neurofibrillary tangles and neuritic plaques in the cerebral cortex of patients with Alzheimer's disease

Cereb Cortex. 1991 Jan-Feb;1(1):103-16. doi: 10.1093/cercor/1.1.103.


The distribution of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) and neuritic plaques (NPs) was mapped in 39 cortical areas of 11 brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). Whole hemisphere blocks were embedded in polyethylene glycol (Carbowax), sectioned coronally, and stained with thioflavin S and thionin. The densities of NFTs and NPs were assessed using a numerical rating scale for each area. Scores were grouped by type of cortex and by lobe for statistical analysis. Highly significant differences were obtained. For example, limbic periallocortex and allocortex had more NFTs than any other type of cortex. In descending order, the density of NFTs was as follows: periallocortex (area 28) greater than allocortex (subiculum/CA1 zones of hippocampal formation, area 51) greater than corticoid areas (accessory basal nucleus of amygdala, nucleus basalis of Meynert) greater than proisocortex (areas 11, 12, 24, 23, anterior insula, 38, 35) greater than nonprimary association cortex (32, 46, superior temporal sulcus, 40, 39, posterior parahippocampal cortex, 37, 36) greater than primary sensory association cortex (7, 18, 19, 22, 21, 20) greater than agranular cortex (44-5, 8, 6, 4) greater than primary sensory cortex (41-2, 3-1-2, 17). The laminar distribution of NFTs tended to be selective, involving primarily layers III and V of association areas and layers II and IV of limbic periallocortex. There were far more NFTs in both limbic and temporal lobes than in frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes. In general, NPs were more evenly distributed throughout the cortex, with the exceptions of limbic periallocortex and allocortex, which had notably fewer NPs than other cortical areas. Temporal and occipital lobes had the highest NP densities, limbic and frontal lobes had the lowest, and parietal lobe was intermediate. No significant left-right hemispheric differences for NFT or NP densities were found across the population, and there was no relationship between duration of illness and densities of NFTs or NPs. The regional and laminar distribution of NFTs (and, to a lesser degree, that of NPs) suggests a consistent pattern of vulnerability within the cerebral cortices that seems correlated to the hierarchies of cortico-cortical connections. The higher-order association cortices, especially those in the anterior and ventromedial sectors of temporal lobe, are the most vulnerable, while other cortices appear less vulnerable to a degree commensurate with their connectional "distance" (i.e., synapses removed) from the limbic areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Female
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurites / ultrastructure*
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / pathology*
  • Tissue Embedding