White matter changes in Alzheimer's disease: a focus on myelin and oligodendrocytes

Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2018 Mar 2;6(1):22. doi: 10.1186/s40478-018-0515-3.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is conceptualized as a progressive consequence of two hallmark pathological changes in grey matter: extracellular amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. However, over the past several years, neuroimaging studies have implicated micro- and macrostructural abnormalities in white matter in the risk and progression of AD, suggesting that in addition to the neuronal pathology characteristic of the disease, white matter degeneration and demyelination may be also important pathophysiological features. Here we review the evidence for white matter abnormalities in AD with a focus on myelin and oligodendrocytes, the only source of myelination in the central nervous system, and discuss the relationship between white matter changes and the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. We review several mechanisms such as ischemia, oxidative stress, excitotoxicity, iron overload, Aβ toxicity and tauopathy, which could affect oligodendrocytes. We conclude that white matter abnormalities, and in particular myelin and oligodendrocytes, could be mechanistically important in AD pathology and could be potential treatment targets.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Myelin, Oligodendrocyte; Neurodegeneration; Oxidative stress; White matter.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Myelin Sheath / pathology*
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology*
  • White Matter / pathology*
  • White Matter / physiopathology*