Description of microcolumnar ensembles in association cortex and their disruption in Alzheimer and Lewy body dementias

S. V. Buldyrev, L. Cruz, T. Gomez-Isla, E. Gomez-Tortosa, S. Havlin, R. Le, H. E. Stanley, B. Urbanc, B. T. Hyman

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83 Scopus citations


The cortex of the brain is organized into clear horizontal layers, laminae, which subserve much of the connectional anatomy of the brain. We hypothesize that there is also a vertical anatomical organization that might subserve local interactions of neuronal functional units, in accord with longstanding electrophysiological observations. We develop and apply a general quantitative method, inspired by analogous methods in condensed matter physics, to examine the anatomical organization of the cortex in human brain. We find, in addition to obvious laminae, anatomical evidence for tightly packed microcolumnar ensembles containing approximately 11 neurons, with a periodicity of about 80 μm. We examine the structural integrity of this new architectural feature in two common dementing illnesses, Alzheimer disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. In Alzheimer disease, there is a dramatic, nearly complete loss of microcolumnar ensemble organization. The relative degree of loss of microcolumnar ensembles is directly proportional to the number of neurofibrillary tangles, but not related to the amount of amyloid-β deposition. In dementia with Lewy bodies, a similar disruption of microcolumnar ensemble architecture occurs despite minimal neuronal loss. These observations show that quantitative analysis of complex cortical architecture can be applied to analyze the anatomical basis of brain disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5039-5043
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - 9 May 2000


FundersFunder number
National Institute on AgingR01AG008487


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