Degeneration of brainstem respiratory neurons in dementia with Lewy bodies

Sleep. 2014 Feb 1;37(2):373-8. doi: 10.5665/sleep.3418.


Background: Respiratory dysfunction, including sleep disordered breathing, is characteristic of multiple system atrophy (MSA) and may reflect degeneration of brainstem respiratory nuclei involved in respiratory rhythmogenesis and chemosensitivity, including the pre-Bötzinger complex (preBötC), nucleus raphe pallidus (RPa), and nucleus raphe obscurus (ROb). However, impaired ventilatory responses to hypercapnia have also been reported in dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), suggesting that these nuclei may also be affected in DLB.

Objectives: To determine whether there is involvement of the preBötC, RPa, and ROb in DLB.

Design: We applied stereological methods to analyze sections immunostained for neurokinin-1 receptor and tryptophan hydroxylase in neuropathologically confirmed cases of DLB, MSA, and controls.

Results: Reduction of neuronal density occurred in all three nuclei in DLB, as well as in MSA. The magnitude of neuronal depletion in ROb was similar in DLB and MSA (49% versus 56% respectively, compared to controls, P < 0.05), but neuronal loss in the preBötC and RPa was less severe in DLB than in MSA (40% loss in preBötC of DLB, P < 0.05 and 68% loss in MSA, P < 0.0001, compared to controls; 46% loss in RPa of DLB, P < 0.05 and 73% loss in MSA P < 0.0001, compared to controls).

Conclusions: Medullary respiratory nuclei are affected in dementia with Lewy bodies but less severely than in multiple system atrophy. This may help explain differences in the frequency of sleep disordered breathing in these two disorders.

Keywords: DLB; MSA; Pre-Bötzinger; medullary raphe; respiration.

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lewy Body Disease / complications
  • Lewy Body Disease / enzymology
  • Lewy Body Disease / metabolism
  • Lewy Body Disease / pathology*
  • Male
  • Medulla Oblongata / enzymology
  • Medulla Oblongata / metabolism
  • Medulla Oblongata / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple System Atrophy / complications
  • Multiple System Atrophy / enzymology
  • Multiple System Atrophy / metabolism
  • Multiple System Atrophy / pathology*
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / metabolism
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / complications
  • Tryptophan Hydroxylase / metabolism
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism


  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Tryptophan Hydroxylase