Cholinergic innervation of the amygdaloid complex in the human brain and its alterations in old age and Alzheimer's disease

Murat Emre, Stephan Heckers, Deborah C. Mash, Changiz Geula, M. ‐Marsel Mesulam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The cholinergic innervation of the human amygdaloid complex was studied immunohistochemically with a choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) antibody in eight brains: five control and three with Alzheimer's disease (AD). All amygdaloid nuclei displayed ChAT‐immunopositive axons and varicosities. The density of these axons reached levels that were higher than in any other part of the forebrain except for the striatum. The highest level of ChAT‐immunopositive profiles was seen in the basolateral nucleus and the second highest in the lateral part of the central nucleus. The basomedial, accessory basal, and cortical nuclei, the amygdalohippocampal and cortico‐amygdaloid transition areas, as well as the anterior amygdaloid area, showed a moderate density of ChAT‐positive varicosities and fibers. The lateral nucleus displayed a relatively low density of cholinergic innervation, and there were only rare ChAT‐positive fibers in the medial nucleus. Although the level of cholinergic innervation in the lateral nucleus was relatively lower than in many of the other amygdaloid nuclei, it was approximately equivalent to that of entorhinal cortex, a region that receives one of the heaviest cholinergic inputs in the cerebral cortex. The distribution of the cholinergic fibers as studied by ChAT immunohistochemistry was nearly identical to that observed with AChE histochemistry. Quantitative densitometry in control specimens showed that there was no decline of amygdaloid cholinergic input when middle‐aged subjects were compared with senescent subjects. In AD there was a severe and regionally selective depletion of this innervation in the amygdaloid complex. The cortical, accessory basal, and lateral nuclei displayed the most severe loss of ChAT‐positive profiles, whereas the basolateral, and especially the central, nuclei displayed relatively little change. There was no consistent relationship between the loss of cholinergic fibers and the density of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in amygdaloid nuclei. © 1993 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-134
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1 1993


  • acetylcholine
  • acetylcholinesterase
  • choline acetyltransferase
  • dementia
  • immunohistochemistry
  • limbic system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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