Increased activity of surviving locus ceruleus neurons in Alzheimer’s disease.

In Alzheimer’s disease (AD) there is neuronal loss in the locus ceruleus (LC), and the noradrenergic system may be even more affected in depressed AD patients. However, this neuronal loss may go together with an increase in activity of the remaining noradrenergic neurons. We prospectively evaluated 16 AD patients (6 depressed, 5 transiently depressed, and 5 nondepressed) and 10 controls. We determined norepinephrine and its metabolite 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG) in various brain areas, and compared these data with previously established neuron numbers in the LC in the same patients.

We could not confirm earlier studies reporting lower norepinephrine concentrations in depressed than in nondepressed dementia patients. The mean norepinephrine concentrations in AD patients were significantly lower than those in control patients, whereas the mean concentrations of MHPG were not different. Moreover, we found significant inverse relationships between the number of remaining pigmented LC neurons and the MHPG/norepinephrine ratio in the frontal cortex and LC.

These data are the first to provide direct evidence for the hypothesis that remaining LC neurons are activated to compensate for decreased cerebral norepinephrine levels in AD, by demonstrating that the MHPG/norepinephrine ratio is significantly higher in AD, indicating increased metabolism.

Source: Ann Neurol 1999 Jan;45(1):82-91

PMID: 9894881, UI: 99110172

(Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, and Department of Psychiatry, Valerius Clinic, Amsterdam.)

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