Recent studies suggest that the cognitive impairment associated with normal aging is due to neuronal dysfunction rather than to loss of neurons or synapses. To characterize this dysfunction, molecular indices of neuronal function were quantified in autopsy samples of cerebral cortex. During normal aging, the most dramatic decline was found in levels of synaptic proteins involved in structural plasticity (remodeling) of axons and dendrites. Alzheimer disease, the most common cause of dementia in the elderly, was associated with an additional 81% decrease in levels of drebrin, a protein regulating postsynaptic plasticity. Disturbed mechanisms of plasticity may contribute to cognitive dysfunction during aging and in Alzheimer disease.

Author notes

Supported by the NIA intramural program and Grant in Aid for Exploratory Research, Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, Japan.