In a retrospective cliniconeuropathological study, we reviewed all the cases received in our dementia brain bank during a 4-year period to determine if all patients with severe substantia nigra (SN) degeneration and SN Lewy bodies (LBs) exhibited prominent signs of parkinsonism and were treated for parkinsonism during the disease course. The SN of 426 cases were graded for microscopic degeneration using a semiquantitative five-tiered scale, with grade 0 indicating normal and grade 4 the most severe degeneration. Twenty-nine cases with grade 3 (16) or grade 4 (13) SN degeneration with SN LBs and clinical records were identified. Ten had been treated for parkinsonism (6 grade 3, 4 grade 4) and 19 had not. Whereas most of the patients had exhibited signs of end-stage parkinsonism during their last year, 1 grade 3 and 2 grade 4 patients apparently never exhibited prominent signs of parkinsonism during the course of their dementia. No clear neuropathological differences were noted between these patients that did not have prominent signs and a control group of six patients with clinical Parkinson's disease with dementia (parkinsonism onset at least 1 year before dementia onset). We conclude that in patients with dementia there is an inconsistent relationship between the expression of clinical parkinsonism during life and severe SN degeneration with LBs identified at necropsy.