Can neurodegenerative disease be defined by four 'primary determinants': anatomy, cells, molecules, and morphology?

Richard A. Armstrong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Traditional methods of describing and classifying neurodegenerative disease are based on the clinico-pathological concept supported by molecular pathological studies and defined by 'consensus criteria'. Disease heterogeneity, overlap between disorders, and the presence of multiple co-pathologies, however, have questioned the validity and status of many traditional disorders. If cases of neurodegenerative disease are not easily classifiable into distinct entities, but more continuously distributed, then a new descriptive framework may be required. This review proposes that there are four key neuropathological features of neurodegenerative disease (the 'primary determinants') that could be used to provide such a framework, viz., the anatomical pathways affected by the disease ('anatomy'), the cell populations affected ('cells'), the molecular pathology of 'signature' pathological lesions ('molecules'), and the morphological types of neurodegeneration ('morphology'). This review first discusses the limitations of existing classificatory systems and second provides evidence that the four primary determinants could be used as axes to define all cases of neurodegenerative disease. To illustrate the methodology, the primary determinants were applied to the study of a group of closely related tauopathy cases and to heterogeneity within frontotemporal lobar degeneration with TDP-43 proteinopathy (FTLD-TDP).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-104
Number of pages16
JournalFolia Neuropathologica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright: © 2016 Mossakowski Medical Research Centre Polish Academy of Sciences and the Polish Association of Neuropathologists. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) License (, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.


  • anatomy
  • cells
  • molecules
  • neurodegeneration
  • neurodegenerative disease
  • primary determinants


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