Evaluating Alzheimer's disease progression using rate of regional hippocampal atrophy

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 12;8(8):e71354. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071354. eCollection 2013.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by neurofibrillary tangle and neuropil thread deposition, which ultimately results in neuronal loss. A large number of magnetic resonance imaging studies have reported a smaller hippocampus in AD patients as compared to healthy elderlies. Even though this difference is often interpreted as atrophy, it is only an indirect measurement. A more direct way of measuring the atrophy is to use repeated MRIs within the same individual. Even though several groups have used this appropriate approach, the pattern of hippocampal atrophy still remains unclear and difficult to relate to underlying pathophysiology. Here, in this longitudinal study, we aimed to map hippocampal atrophy rates in patients with AD, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and elderly controls. Data consisted of two MRI scans for each subject. The symmetric deformation field between the first and the second MRI was computed and mapped onto the three-dimensional hippocampal surface. The pattern of atrophy rate was similar in all three groups, but the rate was significantly higher in patients with AD than in control subjects. We also found higher atrophy rates in progressive MCI patients as compared to stable MCI, particularly in the antero-lateral portion of the right hippocampus. Importantly, the regions showing the highest atrophy rate correspond to those that were described to have the highest burden of tau deposition. Our results show that local hippocampal atrophy rate is a reliable biomarker of disease stage and progression and could also be considered as a method to objectively evaluate treatment effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Atrophy
  • Cognitive Dysfunction
  • Disease Progression
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size