Brain MRI in Pick's disease
|Classification and external resources|
Pick's disease, a type of Frontotemporal Dementia, is a rare neurodegenerative disease that causes progressive destruction of nerve cells in the brain. Symptoms include dementia and loss of language (aphasia). While some of the symptoms can initially be alleviated, the disease progresses and patients often die within two to ten years. A defining characteristic of the disease is build-up of tau proteins in neurons, accumulating into silver-staining, spherical aggregations known as "Pick bodies".
While the term Pick's disease was once used to represent a class of clinical syndromes with symptoms attributable to frontal and temporal lobe dysfunction, it is now used among professionals to mean a specific pathology that is one of the causes of frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Some people use the term Pick's disease to mean the more general clinical syndrome of frontotemporal lobar degeneration, but this has previously led to confusion among professionals and patients and so its use should be restricted to the specific pathological subtype described below. It is also known as Pick disease and PiD (not to be confused with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or Parkinson's disease (PD)).
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of Pick's disease include difficulty in language and thinking, efforts to dissociate from family, behavioral changes, unwarranted anxiety, impaired regulation of social conduct (e.g., breaches of etiquette, tactlessness, dis-inhibition, misperception), passivity, low motivation (aboulia), inertia, over-activity, pacing and wandering. The changes in personality allow doctors to distinguish between Pick's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Pick's disease is one of the causes of the clinical syndrome of frontotemporal lobar degeneration which has three subtypes. Pick's disease pathology is associated more with the frontotemporal dementia and progressive nonfluent aphasia subtypes than the semantic dementia subtype.
While other pathologies causing frontotemporal lobar degeneration are associated with a genetic cause, evidence is not conclusive in modern research on whether classical Pick's disease pathology has or does not have a direct genetic link, or whether it has been shown to run in families or certain ethnic or gender specific subgroups. However, excess of a protein called β-amyloid (Aβ) in neural cells has been linked to neural degeneration. A buildup of Aβ within cells causes inflammation, leading to cell destruction by the immune system.  Proteins associated with Pick's disease are present in all nerve cells, but those with the disease have an abnormal amount.
PiD was first recognized as a distinct disease separate from other neurodegenerative diseases because of the presence of large, dark-staining aggregates of proteins in neurological tissue as well as the aforementioned ballooned cells, which are known as Pick cells. Pick bodies are almost universally present in patients with PiD, but some new cases of atypical Pick’s disease have come to light that lack noticeable Pick bodies. A variety of stains can aid in the visualization of Pick bodies and Pick cells, but immunohistochemical staining using anti-tau and anti-ubiquitin antibodies have proven the most efficient and specific. Hematoxylin and eosin staining allows visualization of another population of Pick cells, which are both tau and ubiquitin protein negative. Several silver impregnation stains have been used, including the Bielschowsky, Bodian, and Gallyas methods. The latter two techniques are sensitive enough to allow PiD to be distinguished from Alzheimer's disease as the Bodian will bind preferentially to cells with PiD as compared to the Gallyas method, which preferentially binds to the cells with Alzheimer's.
Numerous areas of the brain are affected by PiD, but the specific areas that are affected allow for differentiation between PiD and Alzheimer’s disease. Pick bodies are almost always found in several places in the brain, including the dentate gyrus, the pyramidial cells of the CA1 sector and subiculum of the hippocampus, and the neocortex as well as a plurality of other nuclei. Interestingly, it is the location in the layers of the brain as well as the anatomical placement that demonstrates some of the unique features of PiD. A striking feature is that in the neocortex the Pick bodies are in the II and IV layers of the cortex, which send neurons within the cortex and to thalamic synapses, respectively. While layers III and V have very few if any Pick bodies they show extreme neuronal loss that can, in some cases, be so severe as to leave a void in the brain altogether. Other regions that are involved include the caudate, which is severely affected, the dorsomedial region of the putamen, the globus pallidus, and locus coeruleus. The hypothalamic lateral tuberal nucleus is also very severely affected. The cerebellar elements that are important in receiving input, including the mossy fibers as well as the monodendritic brush cells in the granule cell layer, and generating output signals, most notably the dentate nucleus, are stricken with lots of tau protein inclusions. Strangely, the substantia nigra is most often uninvolved or only mildly involved, but cases of extreme degeneration do exist.
PiD has several unique biochemical characteristics that allow for identification of Pick’s disease as opposed to other pathological subtypes of frontotemporal lobar degeneration. The most striking of these is that this disease, which has tau protein tangles present in many affected neurons, contains only one or as many as two of the six isoforms of the tau protein. All of these isoforms result from alternative splicing of the same gene. Pick bodies typically have the 3R isoform of tau proteins as not only the most abundant form but the only form of this protein, but some studies have shown that a much greater number of tau isoforms including 4R and mixed 3R/4R can be present in the Pick bodies. Not only do these tangles have the 3R tau protein predominately, they are characteristically shaped with a round body; there is often an indentation in the area that faces the nucleus of the cell.
The Pick bodies are able to be labeled by N-terminal amyloid precursor protein segment, hyperphosphorylated tau, ubiquitin, Alz-50, neurofiliment proteins, clathrin, synaptophysin and neuronal surface glycoside (A2B5) specific stains. Moreover βII tubulin proteins are suspected in playing a role in the formation of phosphor-tau aggregates that are seen in PiD as well as AD.
Differences from Alzheimer’s disease
In Alzheimer's disease, all six isoforms of tau proteins are expressed. In addition, the presence of neurofibrillary tangles that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s can be stained with antibodies to basic fibroblast growth factor, amyloid P, and heparan sulfate glycosaminoglycan.
Another difference is that in Pick's disease, a personality change occurs before any form of memory loss, unlike Alzheimer's, where memory loss typically presents first. This is used clinically to determine whether a patient is suffering from Alzheimer's or Pick's.
Pick's disease is named after Arnold Pick, a professor of psychiatry from the University of Prague who first discovered and described the disease in 1892 by examining the brain tissue of several deceased patients with histories of dementia. As a result, the characteristic histological feature of this disease—a protein tangle that appears as a large body in neuronal tissue—is named a Pick body. In 1911, Alois Alzheimer noted the complete absence of senile plaques and neurofilbrillary tangles as well as the presence of Pick bodies and occasional ballooned neurons.
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- Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD)
- Syndromes of frontotemporal dementia
- Semantic dementia
- Progressive nonfluent aphasia
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- Pick bodies (histology)
- Frontotemporal Dementia Information Page from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Pick's Disease Information Page
- Frontotemporal dementia information and videos from the UCSF Memory and Aging Center
- The Bluefield Project to Cure Frontotemporal Dementia
- Pick's Disease: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Support
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