Lewy body (LB) diseases are characterized by alpha-synuclein (AS) aggregates in the central nervous system (CNS). Involvement of the peripheral autonomic nervous system (pANS) is increasingly recognized, although less studied. The aim of this study was to systematically analyze the distribution and severity of AS pathology in the CNS and pANS. Detailed postmortem histopathological study of brain and peripheral tissues from 28 brain bank donors (10 with Parkinson's disease [PD], 5 with dementia with LB [DLB], and 13 with non-LB diseases including atypical parkinsonism and non-LB dementia). AS aggregates were found in the pANS of all 15 LB disease cases (PD, DLB) in stellate and sympathetic ganglia (100%), vagus nerve (86.7%), gastrointestinal tract (86.7%), adrenal gland and/or surrounding fat (53.3%), heart (100%), and genitourinary tract (13.3%), as well as in 1 case of incidental Lewy body disease (iLBD). A craniocaudal gradient of AS burden in sympathetic chain and gastrointestinal tract was observed. DLB cases showed higher amounts of CNS AS aggregates than PD cases, but this was not the case in the pANS. No pANS AS aggregates were detected in Alzheimer's disease (AD) cases with or without CNS AS aggregates. All pathologically confirmed LB disease cases including 1 case of iLBD had AS aggregates in the pANS with a craniocaudal gradient of pathology burden in sympathetic chain and gastrointestinal tract. AS was not detected in the pANS of any AD case. These findings may help in the search of peripheral AS aggregates in vivo for the early diagnosis of PD.
Keywords: Parkinson's disease; Parkinson's disease with dementia; alpha-synuclein; autonomic diseases; dementia with Lewy bodies.
© 2014 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.