Microcolumns Collapse in Alzheimer's Brain

Tangles and plaques are hallmarks of the Alzheimer's brain. Thanks to a technique borrowed from statistical physics, researchers from Boston University, the University of Minnesota, and Bar-Ilan University in Israel have quantified another sign: microcolumns of 11 neurons that are noticeably diminished in the Alzheimer's brain, and less so in the related condition Lewy body dementia. Using brains from a brain bank, the researchers probed a part of the cerebral cortex called the superior temporal sulcus, an area linked to all senses and easy to distinguish anatomically. Most importantly, it has about the same number of neurons among same-aged individuals. Using Nissl staining, an optical microscope, and software to perform "quantitative architectural analysis," and comparing the resulting images to a random diagram of dots representing neurons, researchers exposed the thin columns. "Imagine you are sitting on a neuron. You can see neurons to your left...

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