Reactive microglia are positive for HLA-DR in the substantia nigra of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease brains

Neurology. 1988 Aug;38(8):1285-91. doi: 10.1212/wnl.38.8.1285.


We detected large numbers of HLA-DR-positive reactive microglia (macrophages), along with Lewy bodies and free melanin, in the substantia nigra of all cases studied with Parkinson's disease (5) and parkinsonism with dementia (PD) (5). We found similar, but less extensive, pathology in the substantia nigra of six of nine cases of dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT) but in only one of 11 age-matched nonneurologic cases. All dementia cases with a premortem diagnosis of DAT or PD showed large numbers of HLA-DR-positive reactive microglia and significant plaque and tangle counts in the hippocampus, as well as reduced cortical choline acetyltransferase activity. One of 11 nondemented controls showed mild evidence of similar cortical pathology. These data indicate that HLA-DR-positive reactive microglia are a sensitive index of neuropathologic activity. They suggest a frequent coexistence of DAT- and Parkinson-type pathology in elderly patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Dementia / metabolism
  • Dementia / pathology
  • Female
  • HLA-D Antigens / analysis*
  • HLA-DR Antigens / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanins / analysis
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroglia / analysis
  • Neuroglia / cytology*
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology*
  • Substantia Nigra / analysis
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology*


  • HLA-D Antigens
  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • Melanins