In the last decade, a new degenerative dementia, probably the second most common after Alzheimer's disease (AD), has been increasingly recognized under the consensus name of dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). This article reviews current clinical, genetic, and pathological DLB data and indicates directions for future research. DLB overlaps in clinical, pathological, and genetic features with AD and Parkinson's disease (PD). Clinically, it is characterized by progressive cognitive impairment with significant fluctuations in alertness, parkinsonism, and psychosis with recurrent hallucinations. The neuropathological hallmarks are the intracytoplasmic inclusions in substantia nigra typical of PD, known as Lewy bodies (LB) but distributed widely throughout paralimbic and neocortical regions. Most of the cases also coexist with a plaque predominant AD. It is probably the unique and differential distribution of the lesions throughout cortical and subcortical structures in each of these disorders that supports a specific clinical syndrome and may ultimately prove most useful in understanding their different etiologies.
Several genes have recently been implicated in LB formation. Special interest arises from mutations in the alpha-synuclein gene, which appears to be responsible for autosomal dominant PD in several kindreds. This gene encodes a presynaptic protein, a fragment of which is present in AD plaques. Recent studies show intense and quite specific alpha-synuclein immunoreactivity in LB and related neurites, suggesting a potential role of this protein in the aggregation or precipitation of LB inclusions.