The progression of the pathological changes of Alzheimer's disease in frontal and temporal neocortex examined both at biopsy and at autopsy
Brains were obtained at autopsy from five patients with Alzheimer's disease, each of whom had undergone diagnostic craniotomy 3–7 years previously. It was possible, therefore, to examine the number (density) and nucleolar volume of pyramidal nerve cells, and the density of senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles within the cerebral cortex on two occasions during the progression of their illness, and to assess how these measures might have changed during the period between biopsy and death. In all five patients, at biopsy, the density and the nucleolar volume of pyramidal nerve cells was significantly less than controls and, in general, values for both these measures fell significantly further from biopsy to death. By contrast, in none of the five patients did senile plaque density consistently change from biopsy to death; neurofibrillary tangle density either did not change, or indeed sometimes decreased from biopsy to death. These data show that both the clinical and the pathological progression of Alzheimer's disease is marked by a continuing loss of pyramidal cells from frontal and temporal cortex, although the densities of plaques and tangles within the cortex do not, per se, correlate with the stage of the illness. The usefulness of measurement of plaque and tangle densities as pathological criteria by which the clinical and neurochemical deficits of Alzheimer's disease can be compared in different patients is clearly questionable.