Nucleus basalis (Ch4) and cortical cholinergic innervation in the human brain: Observations based on the distribution of acetylcholinesterase and choline acetyltransferase

M‐Marsel ‐M Mesulam*, Changiz Geula

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

384 Scopus citations

Abstract

The nucleus basalis (NB) of the human brain is a large, complex, and highly differentiated structure. Many of its neurons are magnocellular, hyperchromic, isodendritic, acetylcholinesterase‐rich, and choline‐acetyltransferase‐positive. Concurrent histochemical and immunological staining demonstrated that all choline‐acetyltransferase‐positive NB neurons in the human brain also contain acetylcholinesterase enzyme activity. Only a small minority of acetylcholinesterase‐rich magnocellular cell bodies in the NB failed to show choline acetyltransferase immunoreactivity. Sections that were counterstained for Nissl substance showed that 80‐90% of all magnocellular neurons in the NB were choline‐acetyltransferase‐positive and therefore cholinergic. These characteristics, which are very similar to those of the NB in the monkey brain, justified the designation of these cholinergic neurons in the human brain as the Ch4 (or NB‐Ch4) complex. On morphological grounds, the compact parts of the human NB‐Ch4 complex were divided into distinct sectors which appeared to show a greater level of differentiation than in the monkey brain. In addition to the compact sectors, interstitial elements of NB‐Ch4 were embedded within adjacent fiber bundles. The putative cortical projections from NB‐Ch4 were identified in the form of acetylcholinesterase‐rich fibers. These fibers formed a dense plexus in all cortical regions but also displayed laminar and regional variations. Limbic and paralimbic areas had higher concentrations of these fibers than the immediately adjacent neocortical association areas. Alzheimer's disease was associated with a marked depletion of cortical acetylcholinesterase. Two cases of Alzheimer's disease with relatively selective NB‐Ch4 cell loss supported the hypothesis that the corticopetal cholinergic pathways in the human brain may have a topographical organization similar to that in the monkey brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-240
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Volume275
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 8 1988

Keywords

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • acetylcholine
  • basal forebrain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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