We described an extensive network of cortical pyramidal neurons in the human brain with abundant acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity. Emergence of these neurons during childhood/adolescence, attainment of highest density in early adulthood, and virtual absence in other species led us to hypothesize involvement of AChE within these neurons in higher cortical functions. The current study quantified the density and staining intensity of these neurons using histochemical procedures. Few faintly stained AChE-positive cortical pyramidal neurons were observed in children/adolescents. These neurons attained their highest density and staining intensity in young adulthood. Compared with the young adult group, brains of cognitively normal elderly displayed no significant change in numerical density but a significant decrease in staining intensity of AChE-positive cortical pyramidal neurons. Brains of elderly above age 80 with unusually preserved memory performance (SuperAgers) showed significantly lower staining intensity and density of these neurons when compared with same-age peers. Conceivably, low levels of AChE activity could enhance the impact of acetylcholine on pyramidal neurons to counterbalance other involutional factors that mediate the decline of memory capacity during average aging. We cannot yet tell if elderly with superior memory capacity have constitutively low neuronal AChE levels or if this feature reflects adaptive neuroplasticity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience