The morphology and distribution of perikarya positive for choline acetyltransferase, somatostatin, calcium binding protein (calbindin D28K) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase were surveyed in the human striatum. Choline acetyltransferase and somatostatin antibodies labeled separate populations of large striatal interneurons. Somatostatin immunoreactivity and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase (nitric oxide synthase) activity were completely co-localized. Calbindin antibody identified two distinct groups of striatal neurons: (1) numerous medium-sized, lightly stained neurons, probably analogous to striatopallidal projection neurons in the rat, and (2) much less numerous, large, darkly stained neurons. Half of the latter group, but none of the former, were also nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase-positive. Somatostatin-positive and medium-sized, calbindin-positive neurons were more numerous in the caudate nucleus than in the putamen or ventral striatum. By contrast, large calbindin-immunoreactive neurons were more frequently encountered in the putamen. Choline acetyltransferase-positive neurons were evenly distributed across striatal components. In aged control subjects, the size of large, darkly stained calbindin-positive neurons was reduced relative to young subjects. Aging had no effect on somatostatin-, medium-sized calbindin-, or choline acetyltrans-ferase-positive neurons. However, in histologically confimed cases of Alzheimer's disease, there was a selective, 75% loss of choline acetyltransferase-immunoreactive perikarya from the ventral striatum, but not from the dorsal striatum, compared to aged controls. Furthermore, the remaining cholinergic neurons in the ventral striatum of Alzheimer's disease cases were significantly smaller than similar neurons in controls. These results indicate that various striatal components which have been shown to differ in their anatomical connectivity and functional specialization, also differ in their neurochemical signatures. The specific and marked loss of choline acetyltransferase-positive neurons from the ventral striatum in Alzheimer's disease is consistent with the characteristic cholinergic and 'limbic' pathology in this disease.
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