The transitional association between β-amyloid pathology and regional brain atrophy

Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Oct;11(10):1171-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.002. Epub 2014 Dec 9.


Introduction: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by the accumulation of β-amyloid (Aβ) associated with brain atrophy and cognitive decline. The functional form to model the association between Aβ and regional brain atrophy has not been well defined. To determine the relationship between Aβ and atrophy, we compared the performance of the usual dichotomization of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Aβ to identify subjects as Aβ+ and Aβ- with a trilinear spline model of CSF Aβ.

Methods: One hundred and eighty-three subjects with mild cognitive impairment and 108 cognitively normal controls with baseline CSF Aβ and up to 4 years of longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging data from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative were analyzed using mixed-effects regression. Piecewise-linear splines were used to evaluate the nonlinear nature of the association between CSF Aβ and regional atrophy and to identify points of acceleration of atrophy with respect to Aβ. Several parameterizations of CSF Aβ were compared using likelihood ratio tests and the Akaike information criterion. Periods of acceleration of atrophy in which subjects transition from CSF Aβ negativity to CSF Aβ positivity were estimated from the spline models and tested for significance.

Results: Spline models resulted in better fits for many temporal and parietal regions compared with the dichotomous models. The trilinear model showed that periods of acceleration of atrophy varied greatly by region with early changes seen in the insula, amygdala, precuneus, hippocampus, and other temporal regions, occurring before the clinical threshold for CSF Aβ positivity.

Discussion: The use of piecewise-linear splines provides an improved model of the nonlinear association between CSF Aβ and regional atrophy in regions implicated in the progression of AD. The important biological finding of this work is that some brain regions show periods of accelerated volume loss well before the CSF Aβ42 threshold. This implies that signs of brain atrophy develop before the current conventional definition of "preclinical AD".

Keywords: ADNI; Alzheimer's disease; Atrophy; Beta amyloid; Trilinear.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides