Neurodegenerative disorders are characterized by progressive loss of selectively vulnerable populations of neurons, which contrasts with select static neuronal loss because of metabolic or toxic disorders. Neurodegenerative diseases can be classified according to primary clinical features (e.g., dementia, parkinsonism, or motor neuron disease), anatomic distribution of neurodegeneration (e.g., frontotemporal degenerations, extrapyramidal disorders, or spinocerebellar degenerations), or principal molecular abnormality. The most common neurodegenerative disorders are amyloidoses, tauopathies, α-synucleinopathies, and TDP-43 proteinopathies. The protein abnormalities in these disorders have abnormal conformational properties. Growing experimental evidence suggests that abnormal protein conformers may spread from cell to cell along anatomically connected pathways, which may in part explain the specific anatomical patterns observed at autopsy. In this review, we detail the human pathology of select neurodegenerative disorders, focusing on their main protein aggregates.
The current gold standard for diagnosing neurodegenerative disorders is neuropathological evaluation at autopsy. Each disorder is typically defined by complex protein abnormalities.