Degenerative dementias: a question of syndrome or disease?

Neurologia (Engl Ed). 2022 Jul-Aug;37(6):480-491. doi: 10.1016/j.nrleng.2019.03.027. Epub 2021 May 25.


Background: Neurologists refer to numerous "syndromes," consisting of specific combinations of clinical manifestations, following a specific progression pattern, and with the support of blood analysis (without genomic-proteomic parameters) and neuroimaging findings (MRI, CT, perfusion SPECT, or 18F-FDG-PET scans). Neurodegenerative "diseases," on the other hand, are defined by specific combinations of clinical signs and histopathological findings; these must be confirmed by a clinical examination and a histology study or evidence of markers of a specific disorder for the diagnosis to be made. However, we currently know that most genetic and histopathological alterations can result in diverse syndromes. The genetic or histopathological aetiology of each syndrome is also heterogeneous, and we may encounter situations with pathophysiological alterations characterising more than one neurodegenerative disease. Sometimes, specific biomarkers are detected in the preclinical stage.

Development: We performed a literature review to identify patients whose histopathological or genetic disorder was discordant with that expected for the clinical syndrome observed, as well as patients presenting multiple neurodegenerative diseases, confirming the heterogeneity and overlap between syndromes and diseases. We also observed that the treatments currently prescribed to patients with neurodegenerative diseases are symptomatic.

Conclusions: Our findings show that the search for disease biomarkers should be restricted to research centres, given the lack of disease-modifying drugs or treatments improving survival. Moreover, syndromes and specific molecular or histopathological alterations should be managed independently of one another, and new "diseases" should be defined and adapted to current knowledge and practice.

Keywords: Biomarcadores; Biomarkers; Demencia; Dementia; Disease; Enfermedad; Enfermedades neurodegenerativas; Neurodegenerative diseases; Syndrome; Síndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dementia*
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Proteomics
  • Syndrome