Abnormal accumulation of autophagic vesicles correlates with axonal and synaptic pathology in young Alzheimer's mice hippocampus

Acta Neuropathol. 2012 Jan;123(1):53-70. doi: 10.1007/s00401-011-0896-x. Epub 2011 Oct 22.


Dystrophic neurites associated with amyloid plaques precede neuronal death and manifest early in Alzheimer's disease (AD). In this work we have characterized the plaque-associated neuritic pathology in the hippocampus of young (4- to 6-month-old) PS1(M146L)/APP(751SL) mice model, as the initial degenerative process underlying functional disturbance prior to neuronal loss. Neuritic plaques accounted for almost all fibrillar deposits and an axonal origin of the dystrophies was demonstrated. The early induction of autophagy pathology was evidenced by increased protein levels of the autophagosome marker LC3 that was localized in the axonal dystrophies, and by electron microscopic identification of numerous autophagic vesicles filling and causing the axonal swellings. Early neuritic cytoskeletal defects determined by the presence of phosphorylated tau (AT8-positive) and actin-cofilin rods along with decreased levels of kinesin-1 and dynein motor proteins could be responsible for this extensive vesicle accumulation within dystrophic neurites. Although microsomal Aβ oligomers were identified, the presence of A11-immunopositive Aβ plaques also suggested a direct role of plaque-associated Aβ oligomers in defective axonal transport and disease progression. Most importantly, presynaptic terminals morphologically disrupted by abnormal autophagic vesicle buildup were identified ultrastructurally and further supported by synaptosome isolation. Finally, these early abnormalities in axonal and presynaptic structures might represent the morphological substrate of hippocampal dysfunction preceding synaptic and neuronal loss and could significantly contribute to AD pathology in the preclinical stages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Autophagy
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Cytoplasmic Vesicles / ultrastructure*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Neurites / ultrastructure*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Plaque, Amyloid / metabolism
  • Plaque, Amyloid / ultrastructure*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure


  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor