Heterogeneity and selectivity of the degeneration of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain of patients with Alzheimer's disease

Stéphane Lehéricy, Étienne C. Hirsch, Pascale Cervera‐Piérot, Louis B. Hersh, Serge Bakchine, François Piette, Charles Duyckaerts, Jean‐Jacques ‐J Hauw, France Javoy‐Agid, Yves Agid

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96 Scopus citations


Cholinergic neurons were studied by immunohistochemistry, with an antiserum against choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), in the basal forebrain (Ch1 to Ch4) of four patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and four control subjects. ChAT‐positive cell bodies were mapped and counted in Ch1 (medial septal nucleus), Ch2 (vertical nucleus of the diagonal band), Ch3 (horizontal nucleus of the diagonal band) and Ch4 (nucleus basalis of Meynert). Compared to controls, the number of cholinergic neurons in AD patients was reduced by 50% on average. The interindividual variations in cholinergic cell loss were high, neuronal loss ranging from moderate (27%) to severe (63%). Despite the small number of brains studied, a significant correlation was found between the cholinergic cell loss and the degree of intellectual impairment. To determine the selectivity of cholinergic neuronal loss in the basal forebrain of AD patients, NPY‐immunoreactive neurons were also investigated. The number of NPY‐positive cell bodies was the same in controls and AD patients. The results (1) confirm cholinergic neuron degeneration in the basal forebrain in AD and the relative sparing of these neurons in some patients, (2) indicate that degneration of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain contributes to intellectual decline, and (3) show that, in AD, such cholinergic cell loss is selective, since NPY‐positive neurons are preserved in the basal forebrain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-31
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 1993


  • choline acetyltransferase
  • immunohistochemistry
  • neuropeptide Y
  • nucleus basalis of Meynert
  • septal area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)


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