Combined neuropathological pathways account for age-related risk of dementia

Ann Neurol. 2018 Jul;84(1):10-22. doi: 10.1002/ana.25246. Epub 2018 Jun 26.


Objective: Our objectives were to characterize the inter-relation of known dementia-related neuropathologies in one comprehensive model and quantify the extent to which accumulation of neuropathologies accounts for the association between age and dementia.

Methods: We used data from 1,362 autopsied participants of three community-based clinicopathological cohorts: the Religious Orders Study, the Rush Memory and Aging Project, and the Minority Aging Research Study. We estimated a series of structural equation models summarizing a priori hypothesized neuropathological pathways between age and dementia risk individually and collectively.

Results: At time of death (mean age, 89 years), 44% of our sample had a clinical dementia diagnosis. When considered individually, our vascular, amyloid/tau, neocortical Lewy body, and TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43)/hippocampal sclerosis pathology pathways each accounted for a substantial proportion of the association between age and dementia. When considered collectively, the four pathways fully accounted for all variance in dementia risk previously attributable to age. Pathways involving amyloid/tau, neocortical Lewy bodies, and TDP-43/hippocampal sclerosis were interdependent, attributable to the importance of amyloid beta plaques in all three. The importance of the pathways varied, with the vascular pathway accounting for 32% of the association between age and dementia, wheraes the remaining three inter-related degenerative pathways together accounted for 68% (amyloid/tau, 24%; the Lewy body, 1%; and TDP-43/hippocampal sclerosis, 43%).

Interpretation: Age-related increases in dementia risk can be attributed to accumulation of multiple pathologies, each of which contributes to dementia risk. Multipronged approaches may be necessary if we are to develop effective therapies. Ann Neurol 2018;84:10-22.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Amyloid / metabolism
  • Autopsy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Dementia / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lewy Bodies / pathology
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / pathology
  • Neuropathology
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • Amyloid
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • TARDBP protein, human
  • tau Proteins