Although several studies of Alzheimer's disease suggest that the frequency of neuritic plaques in the cerebral cortex is correlated with the severity of dementia and with reduction in presynaptic cholinergic markers in the cortex, the relationship between cholinergic cortical innervation and the pathogenesis of plaques is unknown. The hypothesis was tested that the neuntes in the plaque consist, in part, of presynaptic cholinergic axons, many of which arise from neurons in the basal forebrain. This hypothesis was tested by analyzing the character and distribution of plaques in monkeys, aged 4 to 31 years, with staining for acetylcholinesterase and also with Congo red and silver stains. Immature and mature plaques were rich in acetylcholinesterase. As the plaques matured, the amount of amyloid increased, and the number of neurites and the activity of acetylcholinesterase decreased. End-stage amyloid-rich plaques lacked acetylcholinesterase. These observations indicate that changes in cortical cholinergic innervation are an important feature in the pathogenesis and evolution of the neuritic plaque.
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