The frequency of morphological abnormalities in neuronal perikarya was studied in the cerebral cortex in cases of sporadic CJD (sCJD) and in elderly control patients. Three hypotheses were tested, namely that the proportion of neurons exhibiting abnormal morphology was increased: (i) in sCJD compared with control patients; (ii) in sCJD, in areas with significant prion protein (PrP) deposition compared with regions with little or no PrP deposition; and (iii) when neurons were spatially associated with a PrP deposit compared with neurons between PrP deposits. Changes in cell shape (swollen or atrophic cell bodies), nuclei (displaced, indistinct, shrunken or absent nuclei; absence of nucleolus), and cytoplasm (dense or pale cytoplasm, PrP positive cytoplasm, vacuolation) were commonly observed in all of the cortical areas studied in the sCJD cases. The proportion of neurons exhibiting each type of morphological change was significantly increased in sCJD compared with age-matched control cases. In sCJD, neuronal abnormalities were present in areas with little PrP deposition, but at significantly lower frequencies compared with areas with significant densities of PrP deposits. Abnormalities of cell shape, nucleus and the presence of cytoplasmic vacuolation were increased when the neurons were associated with a PrP deposit, but fewer of these neurons were PrP-positive compared with neurons between deposits. The data suggest significant neuronal degeneration in the cerebral cortex in sCJD in areas without significant PrP deposition and a further phase of neuronal degeneration associated with the appearance of PrP deposits.
- neuronal degeneration
- neuronal perikarya
- prion protein deposits
- sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease