Varied effects of age-related neuropathologies on the trajectory of late life cognitive decline

Brain. 2017 Mar 1;140(3):804-812. doi: 10.1093/brain/aww341.


The objective of this study was to examine whether the effects of age-related neuropathologies on cognition change over time. Participants were 1096 deceased persons from two clinical-pathologic studies. All were without dementia at baseline, completed a detailed battery of cognitive tests annually over up to 21 years, died, and underwent detailed neuropathologic examinations to identify Alzheimer's disease pathology, vascular pathologies (i.e. macro- and microscopic infarcts, atherosclerosis, arteriolar sclerosis, and cerebral amyloid angiopathy), Lewy bodies, transactive response DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) pathology, and hippocampal sclerosis. A time-varying effects model was used to flexibly characterize the trajectory of global cognition and assess whether the effects of demographics and each neuropathologic index on cognition changed over time. Results indicated that the mean trajectory of global cognition was characterized by gradual cognitive decline beginning ∼15 years before death and accelerated decline in the last few years. With the exception of microinfarcts and arteriolar sclerosis, all neuropathologies were associated with the cognitive trajectory. However, the nature of their associations varied. Alzheimer's disease pathology, macroscopic infarcts, Lewy bodies, TDP-43 pathology, and hippocampal sclerosis were associated with progressive cognitive decline, with their deleterious effects increasing over time. By contrast, atherosclerosis and cerebral amyloid angiopathy pathology were associated with a lower level of cognition but their effects were relatively stable over time. These results suggest that age-related neuropathologies are differentially related to late life cognitive trajectories. Whereas some contribute to progressive cognitive deterioration, others lower the level of cognition but exert relatively stable effects over time.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s; TDP-43; cognitive ageing; neuropathology; small vessel disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Neuropathology / methods*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Statistics as Topic