Alois Alzheimer was known as the “psychiatrist with the microscope,” and he was convinced that mental illness was a disease of the brain. After one of his long-term patients died in 1906 after exhibiting strange behavior and memory loss for much of her life, and extreme dementia for her last five years, he was able to examine stained sections of her brain in a light microscope. He immediately noticed abnormal features of her brain, and recorded in meticulous drawings the numerous plaques and tangles that have come to be the diagnostic features of Alzheimer’s disease.
Fast forward one hundred years, and scientists are able to diagnose and attack Alzheimer’s disease from many different angles using mouse models, genetics and advanced imaging techniques.
For more information, see HHMI’s Tangled Bank Studios production of “Can Alzheimer's Be Stopped?” on NOVA
The mouse brain tissue was labeled with specific dyes that reveal damaged neurons and amyloid plaques, fixed and then sliced into 30-micron thick sections. The image was collected using a confocal microscope. The dystrophic axons were color-coded for depth in the Z-axis and the amyloid plaque was colored purple. The image is 60x60 microns and projected through 20 microns in depth.
Peng Yuan PhD. and Jaime Grutzendler, MD, Center for Experimental Neuroimaging, Yale University, New Haven, CT