Alzheimer's Pathology, circa 1906

Alzheimer's drawing of a histological section from his second patient, Johann F. Credit: Image supplied by author, obtained from Zeitschrift fur die Gesamte Neurologie und Pyschiatrie, 1911." />Alzheimer's drawing of a histological section from his second patient, Johann F. Credit: Image supplied by author, obtained from Zeitschrift fur die Gesamte Neurologie und Pyschiatrie, 1911. On

Ralf Dahm
Feb 28, 2009
<figcaption>Alzheimer's drawing of a histological section from his second patient, Johann F. Credit: Image supplied by author, obtained from Zeitschrift fur die Gesamte Neurologie und Pyschiatrie, 1911.</figcaption>
Alzheimer's drawing of a histological section from his second patient, Johann F. Credit: Image supplied by author, obtained from Zeitschrift fur die Gesamte Neurologie und Pyschiatrie, 1911.

On November 26th 1901, Alois Alzheimer, an assistant physician at the psychiatric institution in Frankfurt, met his now-famous patient, Auguste D., for the first time. Soon into their first conversation, he realized that the 51 year old woman showed symptoms unlike any he had seen before. When Alzheimer asked her questions, her replies didn't match. She also often stopped mid-sentence, as if she had forgotten what she was going to say. She was confused and anxious. Alzheimer was intrigued, but it wasn't until nearly five years later that he got a first glimpse into the underlying pathology.

<figcaption>These drawings, by Alzheimer, depict fibrils twisting around the nuclei from his first patient, Auguste D.</figcaption>
These drawings, by Alzheimer, depict fibrils twisting around the nuclei from his first patient, Auguste D.

When Auguste D. died on April 8th 1906, Alzheimer, then head of the anatomy laboratory at the Royal Psychiatric Clinic in Munich, received her brain for histological analysis, and made drawings of what he saw. Right away, he realized that this case also differed anatomically from all known brain pathologies. Throughout the brain, cells had died on an immense scale. In the neurons that remained Alzheimer noticed thick, strongly staining fibrils (the twisted dark lines in the black and white drawing). Moreover, the cortex was full of plaques of unknown composition. (Curr Biol, 16:906-910, 2006).

On November 3rd 1906, Alzheimer reported his findings at a meeting of psychiatrists in Tübingen, and proposed that he had discovered a new disease. In 1911, he published his findings on the histopathology of Auguste D.'s brain, together with the case of Johann F.