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We have shown that many neurons in Alzheimer's disease (AD) exhibit terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) labeling for DNA strand breaks, and upregulation of Bcl-2 is associated with neurons exhibiting nuclear DNA fragmentation, while downregulation of Bcl-2 is associated with tangle-bearing neurons in AD brains. Consequently, we examined the expression of bcl-associated X (Bax) protein in AD brain. Immunoreactivity for Bax was seen in neurons and microglia of the hippocampal formation, and was elevated in the majority of AD cases as compared to control cases. Interestingly, 3 transitional cases, which had mild degeneration changes, exhibited relatively high levels of Bax immunoreactivity. Most Bax-positive neurons showed either TdT-labeled nuclei or Bcl-2 immunoreactivity. Although Bax immunoreactivity was detected within most early tangle-bearing neurons, many Bax-positive neurons did not colocalize with later-stage tangle-bearing neurons. In regions containing relatively few tangles in mild AD brains, many TdT-labeled neurons were immunolabeled with Bax antibody and most of them lacked evidence of neurofibrillary changes. These findings suggest that Bax may contribute to neuronal cell death in AD. Furthermore, DNA damage and the upregulation of Bax appear to precede tangle formation or may represent an alternative pathway of cell death in AD.

(C) 1997 American Association of Neuropathologists, Inc