Emerging insights into synapse dysregulation in Alzheimer's disease

Raquel Martinez, Lidia Alonson-Nanclares, Kei Cho, Peter Giese

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia and a growing worldwide problem, with its incidence expected to increase in the coming years. Since synapse loss is a major pathology and is correlated with symptoms in Alzheimer's disease, synapse dysfunction and loss may underlie pathophysiology. In this context, this review focuses on emerging insights into synaptic changes at the ultrastructural level. The three-dimensional electron microscopy technique unequivocally detects all types of synapses, including multi-synapses, which are indicators of synaptic connectivity between neurons. In recent years it has become feasible to perform sophisticated three-dimensional electron microscopy analyses on post-mortem human Alzheimer's disease brain as tissue preservation and electron microscopy techniques have improved. This ultrastructural analysis found that synapse loss does not always precede neuronal loss, as long believed. For instance, in the transentorhinal cortex and area CA1 of the hippocampus, synapse loss does not precede neuronal loss. However, in the entorhinal cortex, synapse loss precedes neuronal loss. Moreover, the ultrastructural analysis provides details about synapse morphology. For example, changes in excitatory synapses' post-synaptic densities, with fragmented postsynaptic densities increasing at the expense of perforated synapses, are seen in Alzheimer's disease brain. Further, multi-synapses also appear to be altered in Alzheimer's disease by doubling the abundance of multi-innervated spines in the transentorhinal cortex of Alzheimer's disease brain. Collectively, these recent ultrastructural analyses highlight distinct synaptic phenotypes in different Alzheimer's disease brain regions and broaden the understanding of synapse alterations, which may unravel some new therapeutic targets.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfcac083
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Multi-innervated spine
  • Multi-spine bouton
  • Synapses
  • Three-dimensional electron microscopy


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