Brain atrophy in primary progressive aphasia involves the cholinergic basal forebrain and Ayala's nucleus.
The small magnocellular group located within the rostrolateral extension of the basal forebrain was named and described as the nucleus subputaminalis in the human and chimpanzee brain by Ayala. Analysis of cytoarchitectonic and cytochemical characteristics of this cell group has been largely disregarded in both classical and more current studies. We examined the nucleus subputaminalis in 33 neurologically normal subjects (ranging from 15 weeks of gestation to 71 years-of-age) by using Nissl staining, choline acetyltransferase immunohistochemistry, acetyl cholinesterase histochemistry and nerve growth factor receptor immunocytochemistry. In addition, we applied reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-diaphorase histochemistry and calbindin-D28k immunocytochemistry in three neurologically normal subjects. At the most rostrolateral levels we describe the previously poorly characterized component of the lateral (periputaminal) subdivision of the subputaminal nucleus, which may be human specific since it is not described in non-human primates. Moreover, we find the human subputaminal nucleus best developed at the anterointermediate level, which is the part of the basal nucleus that is usually much smaller or missing in monkeys. The location of subputaminal cholinergic neurons within the frontal lobe, the ascension of their fibers through the external capsule towards the inferior frontal gyrus, the larger size of the subputaminal nucleus on the left side at the most rostral and anterointermediate levels and the most protracted development among all magnocellular aggregations within the basal forebrain strongly suggest that they may be connected with the cortical speech area. These findings give rise to many hypotheses about the possible role of the subputaminal nucleus in various neurodegenerative, neurological and psychiatric disorders, particularly Alzheimer's disease and primary progressive aphasia. Therefore, future studies on the basal forebrain should more carefully investigate this part of the basal nucleus.