Synaptic pathology in Alzheimer's disease: relation to severity of dementia, but not to senile plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, or the ApoE4 allele

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 1996;103(5):603-18. doi: 10.1007/BF01273157.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterised by an increased number of senile plaques (SP) and neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) as compared with that found in non-demented individuals of the same age, and a marked degeneration and loss of synapses. One of the main risk-factors for the disorder is inheritance of the apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4) allele. To further study the relation between these pathogenetic substrates for AD, we quantified the synaptic vesicle membrane protein rab3a in brain tissue from 19 patients with AD and 9 age-matched control subjects. Rab3a levels were reduced in AD, both in the hippocampus (60% of control level, p < 0.0001), and in the frontal cortex (68% of control level, p < 0.01), but not in the cerebellum (92% of control level). Within the AD group, lower rab3a levels were found both with increasing duration and severity of dementia. These findings further support that synaptic pathology is closely correlated to the clinical dementia in AD. In contrast, no significant correlations were found between SP counts and duration or severity of dementia, while higher NFT counts in the frontal cortex were found with increasing severity of dementia (r = 0.54, p < 0.05). There were no significant correlations between the rab3a level and SP or NFT counts, and by immunohistochemistry, reduced rab3a immunostaining was found throughout the neuropil in AD brain, without relation to SP or NFT. These findings suggest that the synaptic pathology in AD is not closely related to the presence of SP and NFT. No significant differences in rab3a levels were found in any brain region between AD patients possessing different numbers of the ApoE4 allele, suggesting that, although ApoE4 is A risk factor for earlier development of AD, the degree of synaptic pathology does not differ between patients with or without the ApoE4 allele.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alleles
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Apolipoprotein E4
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiology
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / analysis*
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / pathology*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / chemistry
  • Synaptic Vesicles / pathology*
  • rab3 GTP-Binding Proteins


  • Apolipoprotein E4
  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • GTP-Binding Proteins
  • rab3 GTP-Binding Proteins