Heterogeneous patterns of brain atrophy in Alzheimer's disease

Neurobiol Aging. 2018 May:65:98-108. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2018.01.009. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


There is increasing evidence showing that brain atrophy varies between patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), suggesting that different anatomical patterns might exist within the same disorder. We investigated AD heterogeneity based on cortical and subcortical atrophy patterns in 299 AD subjects from 2 multicenter cohorts. Clusters of patients and important discriminative features were determined using random forest pairwise similarity, multidimensional scaling, and distance-based hierarchical clustering. We discovered 2 typical (72.2%) and 3 atypical (28.8%) subtypes with significantly different demographic, clinical, and cognitive characteristics, and different rates of cognitive decline. In contrast to previous studies, our unsupervised random forest approach based on cortical and subcortical volume measures and their linear and nonlinear interactions revealed more typical AD subtypes with important anatomically discriminative features, while the prevalence of atypical cases was lower. The hippocampal-sparing and typical AD subtypes exhibited worse clinical progression in visuospatial, memory, and executive cognitive functions. Our findings suggest there is substantial heterogeneity in AD that has an impact on how patients function and progress over time.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Cluster analyses; Cortical volumes; Random forest similarity; Structural magnetic resonance imaging; Subcortical volumes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / classification
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology