Neuroaxonal dystrophy in aging human sympathetic ganglia

R. E. Schmidt, H. Y. Chae, C. A. Parvin, K. A. Roth

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41 Scopus citations


Autonomic dysfunction is an increasingly recognized problem in aging animals and man. The pathologic changes that produce autonomic dysfunction in human aging are largely unknown; however, in experimental animals models specific pathologic changes have been found in selected sympathetic ganglia. To address whether similar neuropathologic changes occur in aging humans, the authors have examined paravertebral and prevertebral sympathetic ganglia from a series of 56 adult autopsied nondiabetic patients. They found significant, specific, age-related neuropathologic lesions in the prevertebral sympathetic superior mesenteric ganglia of autopsied patients. Markedly swollen dystrophic preterminal axons compressed or displaced the perikarya of principal sympathetic neurons. Ultrastructurally, these swollen presynaptic axons contained abundant disoriented neurofilaments surrounded by peripherally marginated dense core vesicles. Immunohistochemical studies demonstrated that dystrophic axons contained tyrosine hydroxylase and neuropeptide tyrosine (NPY)-like immunoreactivity but not other neuropeptides (VIP, substance P, gastrin-releasing peptide [GRP]/bombesin, met-enkephalin). Similar to the animal models of aging, lesions were much more frequent in the prevertebral superior mesenteric ganglia than in the paravertebral superior cervical ganglia. These studies demonstrate anatomic, peptidergic, and pathologic specificity in the aging human nervous system similar in many respects to that which the authors have described in experimental animal models. Neuroaxonal dystrophy in the sympathetic nervous system may underlie poorly understood alterations in clinical autonomic nervous system function that develop with age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1327-1338
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1990


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