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The work of the neuropathologist consists largely of examining biopsy tissue from the brain and spinal cord to aid in diagnosis 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.
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.
Neuropathology in the US System
Neuropathologists are physicians with either MD or DO medical school degrees. They must finish either 2 or 3 years of an anatomical pathology residency followed by 2 years of a neuropathology fellowship and be certified by the American Board of Pathologyin both anatomical and neuropathology. It is also quite common for neuropathologists to have PhDs in a related field.
In addition to examining central nervous system tissue, the neuropathologist usually is assigned the task of examining muscle and peripheral nerve biopsies. Muscle biopsies are taken to aid in the diagnosis of muscle diseases (such as polymyositis, mitochondrial myopathy, etc.). Peripheral nerve is assessed to help work up patients with suspected peripheral neuropathies secondary to such conditions as vasculitis and amyloidosis.
Neuropathology is a heavily research oriented field.
History of neuropathology
A European Board Examination in Neuropathology which emphasizes the importance of proper training in the neurosciences is currently being established (www.euro-cns.org). The most recent international meeting of neuropathologists occurred in September 2006 in San Francisco, California, USA.
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