Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism: Neuropathology

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Parkinsonism, the clinical term for a disorder with prominent bradykinesia and variable associated extrapyramidal signs and symptoms, is accompanied by degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system, with neuronal loss and reactive gliosis in the substantia nigra found at autopsy. Parkinsonism is pathologically heterogeneous, with the most common pathologic substrates related to abnormalities in the presynaptic protein α-synuclein or the microtubule binding protein tau. In idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD), α-synuclein accumulates in neuronal perikarya (Lewy bodies) and neuronal processes (Lewy neurites). The disease process is multifocal and involves select central nervous system neurons and peripheral autonomic nervous system neurons. The particular set of neurons affected determines nonmotor clinical presentations. Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is the other major α-synucleinopathy. It is also associated with autonomic dysfunction and in some cases with cerebellar signs. The hallmark histopathologic feature of MSA is accumulation of α-synuclein within glial cytoplasmic inclusions (GCI). The most common of the Parkinsonian tauopathies is progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), which is clinically associated with severe postural instability leading to early falls. The tau pathology of PSP also affects both neurons and glia. Given the population frequency of PD, α-synuclein pathology similar to that in PD, but not accompanied by neuronal loss, is relatively common (10% of people over 65 years of age) in neurologically normal individuals, leading to proposed staging schemes for PD progression. Although MSA-like and PSP-like pathology can be detected in neurologically normal individuals, such cases are too infrequent to permit assessment of patterns of disease progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbera009258
JournalCold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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