Comparison of Locus Coeruleus Pathology with Nigral and Forebrain Pathology in Parkinson's Disease

Benjamin Huynh, Yuhong Fu, Deniz Kirik, James M. Shine, Glenda M Halliday

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Pathology in the noradrenergic A6 locus coeruleus has not been compared with more rostral dopaminergic A9 substantia nigra and A10 ventral tegmental area, and cholinergic Ch4 basal nucleus and Ch1/2 septal regions in the same cases of Parkinson's disease (PD). Objective: To determine whether there is a gradient of caudal to rostral cell loss in PD. Methods: Postmortem brains were collected from longitudinally followed donors with PD (n = 14) and aged-matched healthy donors (n = 13), six with restricted brainstem Lewy pathology (RLP), fixed in formalin and serial tissue slabs processed for cell and pathological quantitation. Noradrenergic A6 neurons were assessed and compared with previously published midbrain and basal forebrain data. From these data, regression estimates of pathological onset and progression were determined. Results: Restricted Lewy pathology (RLP) cases had high pathological variability but no significant reduction in neurons. Pathology containing A6 neuron loss started at PD diagnosis and progressed faster (2.4% p.a) than the loss of dopaminergic A9 neurons (2% loss p.a.). Cases with dementia had significantly more pathology in noradrenergic and cholinergic neurons, had greater noradrenergic A6 neuron loss (29% more, progressing at 3.2% p.a.), and a selective loss of lateral A10 nonmelanized dopamine-producing neurons (starting a decade following diagnosis). Conclusions: These findings show that in the same Parkinson's disease cases cell loss in these neurotransmitter systems does not follow a strict caudal to rostral trajectory and suggests symptom onset may relate to substantial pathology in the noradrenergic A6 locus coeruleus neurons in people with reduced dopamine-producing A9 substantia nigra neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2085-2093
JournalMovement Disorders
Issue number9
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Neurosciences

Free keywords

  • dementia
  • locus coeruleus
  • noradrenaline
  • Parkinson's disease
  • pathology


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