Cortical cholinergic denervation in primary progressive aphasia with Alzheimer pathology

M. Marsel Mesulam, Nava Lalehzari, Farzan Rahmani, Daniel Ohm, Ryan Shahidehpour, Garam Kim, Tamar Gefen, Sandra Weintraub, Eileen Bigio, Changiz Geula*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


ObjectiveTo investigate the status of the basal forebrain cholinergic system in primary progressive aphasia (PPA) as justification for cholinergic therapy.MethodsA cohort of 36 brains from PPA participants with the neuropathology of Alzheimer disease (PPA-AD, n = 14) or frontotemporal lobar degeneration (PPA-tau, n = 12; PPA-TDP, n = 10) were used for semiquantitative rating of degeneration and gliosis of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons (BFCN). A subpopulation of 5 PPA-AD and 7 control brains underwent detailed analysis of BFCN pathology and cortical cholinergic axonal loss employing immunohistochemical and histochemical methods and stereologic analysis.ResultsSemiquantitatively, 11 (∼80%) PPA-AD participants were rated as having moderate/severe BFCN loss and gliosis, whereas none of the PPA-tau and only 1 (10%) PPA-TDP participant received such a rating. Detailed analysis in the subpopulation of PPA-AD participants revealed substantial tangle formation, loss of BFCN, and degeneration of cortical cholinergic axons. Compared to controls, loss of p75 low affinity neurotrophin receptor-positive BFCN was detected in the PPA-AD participants (p < 0.01). Acetylcholinesterase-positive cholinergic axons in all cortical areas studied displayed loss in PPA-AD (p < 0.005-0.0001). The loss was more severe in the language-dominant left hemisphere and, within the left hemisphere, in language-affiliated cortical areas.ConclusionsOur results demonstrate prominent depletion of BFCN and cortical cholinergic axons in PPA-AD when compared with normal control or other neuropathologic variants of PPA. The demonstration of cholinergic denervation with an anatomy that fits the clinical picture suggests that cholinergic treatment is justified in patients with PPA who have positive AD biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1580-E1588
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 2 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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