Why do Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease target the same neurons?Med Hypotheses. 2009 Jun; 72(6):698-700.MH
The puzzle is to explain how cerebral involvement in the sporadic forms of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD) can target the same population of vulnerable neurons. These neurons are poorly-myelinated projection neurons, lack of myelin being associated with high metabolic demand, high oxygen consumption, and high baseline oxidative stress. Yet the two diseases are clearly separable, with different intracellular markers, different risk factors, and different patterns of subcortical involvement. A theory is developed to show how two different pathophysiologies can preferentially affect the same neurons. In the case of AD, the hypothesis is as follows: the so-called vascular risk factors of AD, which include hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and smoking, are all associated with increased systemic extracellular oxidative stress. High extracellular oxidative stress synergizes with high baseline intracellular oxidative stress to cause the disease. In the case of PD, mitochondrial failure associated with normal aging leads to diminished energy production and increased leakage of reactive oxygen species from mitochondria, a process which preferentially targets neurons with high baseline oxidative stress. In one case, the extra oxidative stress comes from outside the cell and, in the other case, it comes from inside the cell, i.e. from mitochondria. There is also evidence that neurofibrillary tangles are a protective mechanism against extracellular oxidative stress and that alpha-synuclein is a marker for mitochondrial failure. The basic pathophysiological difference is that AD is caused by oxidative stress alone, whereas PD is caused by oxidative stress plus failure of energy production.