Objectives: Alzheimer disease (AD) shows a broad array of clinical presentations, but the mechanisms underlying these phenotypic variants remain elusive. Aging-related astrogliopathy (ARTAG) is a relatively recent term encompassing a broad array of tau deposition in astroglia outside the range of traditional tauopathies. White matter thorn-shaped astrocyte (WM-TSA) clusters, a specific ARTAG subtype, has been associated with atypical language presentation of AD in a small study lacking replication. To interrogate the impact of WM-TSA in modifying clinical phenotype in AD, we investigated a clinicopathologic sample of 83 persons with pure cortical AD pathology and heterogeneous clinical presentations.
Methods: We mapped WM-TSA presence and density throughout cortical areas and interrogated whether WM-TSA correlated with atypical AD presentation or worse performance in neuropsychological testing.
Results: WM-TSA was present in nearly half of the cases and equally distributed in typical and atypical AD presentations. Worsening language and visuospatial functions were correlated with higher WM-TSA density in language-related and visuospatial-related regions, respectively. These findings were unrelated to regional neurofibrillary tangle burden. Next, unsupervised clustering divided the participants into 2 groups: a high-WM-TSA (n = 9) and low-WM-TSA (n = 74) pathology signature. The high-WM-TSA group scored significantly worse in language but not in other cognitive domains.
Conclusions: The negative impact of WM-TSA pathology to language and possibly visuospatial networks suggests that WM-TSA is not as benign as other ARTAG types and may be explored as a framework to understand the mechanisms and impact of astrocytic tau deposition in AD in humans.
© 2020 American Academy of Neurology.