Neuroimaging correlates of neuropsychiatric symptoms in Alzheimer's disease: a review of 20 years of research

Eur J Neurol. 2016 Oct;23(10):1500-9. doi: 10.1111/ene.13076. Epub 2016 Jul 20.


Assessing morphological, perfusion and metabolic brain changes preceding or associated with neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPSs) will help in the understanding of pathophysiological underlying processes in Alzheimer's disease (AD). This review aimed to highlight the main findings on significant associations between neuroimaging and NPSs, the pathophysiology to elucidate possible underlying mechanisms, and methodological issues to aid future research. Research papers published from January 1990 to October 2015 were identified in the databases PsycInfo, Embase, PubMed and Medline, using key words related to NPSs and imaging techniques. In addition to a semi-systematic search in the databases, we also performed hand searches based on reported citations identified to be of interest. Delusions, apathy and depression symptoms were particularly associated with brain changes in AD. The majority of studies disclosed an association between frontal lobe structural and/or metabolic changes and NPSs, implicating, interestingly, for all 12 NPSs studied, the anterior cingulate cortex although temporal, subcortical and parietal regions, and insula were also involved. Given the high degree of connectivity of these brain areas, frontal change correlates of NPSs may help in the understanding of neural network participation. This review also highlights crucial methodological issues that may reduce the heterogeneity of results to enable progress on the pathophysiological mechanisms and aid research on NPS treatments in AD. Based on a broad review of the current literature, a global brain pattern to support the huge heterogeneity of neuroimaging correlates of NPSs in AD and methodological strategies are suggested to help direct future research.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; neuroimaging correlates; neuropsychiatric symptoms; review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease* / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease* / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease* / physiopathology
  • Apathy / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex* / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex* / physiopathology
  • Delusions* / diagnostic imaging
  • Delusions* / etiology
  • Delusions* / physiopathology
  • Depression* / diagnostic imaging
  • Depression* / etiology
  • Depression* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging*