Recent evidence indicates that the nucleus basalis of Meynert, a distinct population of basal forebrain neurons, is a major source of cholinergic innervation of the cerebral cortex. Postmortem studies have previously demonstrated profound reduction in the presynaptic markers for cholinergic neurons in the cortex of patients with Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type. The results of this study show that neurons of the nucleus basalis of Meynert undergo a profound (> 75 percent) and selective degeneration in these patients and provide a pathological substrate of the cholinergic deficiency in their brains. Demonstration of selective degeneration of such neurons represents the first documentation of a loss of a transmitter-specific neuronal population in a major disorder of higher cortical function and, as such, points to a critical subcortical lesion in Alzheimer's patients.
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