Reactive glia not only associates with plaques but also parallels tangles in Alzheimer's disease

Alberto Serrano-Pozo, Matthew L. Mielke, Teresa Gómez-Isla, Rebecca A. Betensky, John H. Growdon, Matthew P. Frosch, Bradley T. Hyman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Senile plaques are a prominent pathological feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD), but little is understood about the association of glial cells with plaques or about the dynamics of glial responses through the disease course. We investigated the progression of reactive glial cells and their relationship with AD pathological hallmarks to test whether glial cells are linked only to amyloid deposits or also to tangle deposition, thus integrating both lesions as a marker of disease severity. We conducted a quantitative stereology-based post-mortem study on the temporal neocortex of 15 control subjects without dementia and 91 patients with AD, including measures of amyloid load, neurofibrillary tangles, reactive astrocytes, and activated microglia. We also addressed the progression of glial responses in the vicinity (≤50 μm) of dense-core plaques and tangles. Although the amyloid load reached a plateau early after symptom onset, astrocytosis and microgliosis increased linearly throughout the disease course. Moreover, glial responses correlated positively with tangle burden, whereas astrocytosis correlated negatively with cortical thickness. However, neither correlated with amyloid load. Glial responses increased linearly around existing plaques and in the vicinity of tangles. These results indicate that the progression of astrocytosis and microgliosis diverges from that of amyloid deposition, arguing against a straightforward relationship between glial cells and plaques. They also suggest that reactive glia might contribute to the ongoing neurodegeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1373-1384
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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