What is the neuroanatomy of Alzheimer disease (AD)?

Updated: May 09, 2019
  • Author: Shaheen E Lakhan, MD, PhD, MS, MEd; Chief Editor: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA  more...
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Answer

Healthy neurons have an internal support structure partly made up of structures called microtubules. These microtubules act like tracks, guiding nutrients and molecules from the body of the cell down to the ends of the axon and back. A special kind of protein, tau, binds to the microtubules and stabilizes them.

In AD, tau is changed chemically. It begins to pair with other threads of tau, which become tangled together. When this happens, the microtubules disintegrate, collapsing the neuron’s transport system (see the image below). The formation of these neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) may result first in malfunctions in communication between neurons and later in the death of the cells.

Healthy neurons. Image courtesy of NIH. Healthy neurons. Image courtesy of NIH.

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