Senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type can be diagnosed with certainty only by examining neurofibrillary tangles and neuritic plaques under the microscope1-4. Recently, it has been suggested that the condition is linked to specific neurotransmitter systems5, with a decline of cortical acetylcholine, choline acetyl-transferase5-8, cholinergic neurones projecting to the cortex9-11, cortical noradrenaline content12, locus coeruleus neurones13,14 and cortical somatostatic content15. Using immunocytochemical methods 16, we here report that somatostatin-immunoreactive processes are present in neuritic plaques in human Alzheimer's specimens17. These data, as well as other reports of non-cholinergic changes18,19, strongly imply that Alzheimer's disease cannot be linked exclusively to cortical cholinergic elements, as proposed previously8. Rather, our data on plaque and somatostatin co-localization and distribution patterns suggest that Alzheimer's neuropathology may involve primarily the loss of selective cortical neurones that are targets of the implicated transmitter systems and that plaque formation may result from the degeneration of presynaptic and postsynaptic neurites of large projection neurones in layers III and V. Given the neurochemically heterogeneous input to these cells, it is not surprising that several neutrotransmitter systems, one of which is somatostatin, are implicated in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease.
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