• ocus coeruleus;
  • man;
  • noradrenergic neurons;
  • Parkinson's disease;
  • Golgi technique;
  • formalin-fixed autopsy material;
  • pathology of dendrites

The locus coeruleus (LC) of eight adults without neurodegenerative disease and eight patients with Parkinson's disease was investigated by means of the Golgi-Braitenberg method for formalin-fixed human autopsy material. As with Golgi studies in the rat and cat, two main neuronal classes could be demonstrated in the human LC: (i) medium-sized fusiform and multipolar LC neurons known to contain neuromelanin and (ii) smaller neurons of widely varying somatic shape and dendritic arborization which are considered to be intermingled neurons of adjacent brain stem nuclei not containing neuromelanin.

In Parkinson's disease, the Golgi-impregnated medium-sized LC neurons were reduced in number. They showed marked reduction of dendritic length, severe loss of spines, dendritic varicosities and swollen perikarya. The last two findings could be due in part to Lewy-body inclusions. The smaller non-noradrenergic neurons did not show severe pathological changes by the Golgi impregnation technique, which is in line with the fact that only neuromelanin-containing LC neurons are affected in the pathological process of Parkinson's disease.