Neuropathology is the study of disease of nervous system tissue, usually in the form of either small surgical biopsies or whole autopsy brains. Neuropathology is a subspecialty of anatomic pathology, neurology, andneurosurgery. It should not be confused with neuropathy, which refers to disorders of the nerves (usually in the peripheral nervous system).
The work of the neuropathologist consists largely of examining biopsy tissue from the brain and spinal cord to aid indiagnosis of disease. The biopsy is usually requested after a mass is detected by radiologic imaging. As for autopsies, the principal work of the neuropathologist is to help in the post-mortem diagnosis of various forms of dementia and other conditions that affect the central nervous system.
Biopsies can also consist of the skin. Epidermalnerve fiber density testing (ENFD) is a more recently developed neuropathology test in which a punch skin biopsy is taken to identify small fiber neuropathies by analyzing the nerve fibers of the skin. This pathology test is becoming available in select labs as well as many universities; it replaces the traditional sural nerve biopsy test as less invasive. It is used to identify painful small fiber neuropathies.
Focus of specialization
In many English speaking countries neuropathology is considered a subfield of anatomical pathology. In contrast, there are a number of independent university chairs in neuropathology and even institutes of neuropathology in German speaking countries due to a different historical background. A physician who specializes in neuropathology, usually by completing a fellowship after a residency in anatomical or general pathology, is called a neuropathologist. In day-to-day clinical practice, a neuropathologist is a consultant for other physicians. If a disease of the nervous system is suspected, and the diagnosis cannot be made by less invasive methods, a biopsy of nervous tissue is taken and sent to the neuropathologist, who examines it using a microscope or certain molecular methods to make a definitive diagnosis.
Many neuropathologists in Europe have a background in the clinical neurosciences (neurology, psychiatry) as well as pathology.