Pathobiological Subtypes of Alzheimer Disease

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2020;49(4):321-333. doi: 10.1159/000508625. Epub 2021 Jan 11.


Alzheimer disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, is a heterogenous disorder with various pathobiological subtypes. In addition to the 4 major subtypes based on the distribution of tau pathology and brain atrophy (typical, limbic predominant, hippocampal sparing, and minimal atrophy [MA]), several other clinical variants showing distinct regional patterns of tau burden have been identified: nonamnestic, corticobasal syndromal, primary progressive aphasia, posterior cortical atrophy, behavioral/dysexecutive, and mild dementia variants. Among the subtypes, differences were found in age at onset, sex distribution, cognitive status, disease duration, APOE genotype, and biomarker levels. The patterns of key network destructions parallel the tau and atrophy patterns of the AD subgroups essentially. Interruption of key networks, in particular the default-mode network that is responsible for cognitive decline, is consistent in hetero-genous AD groups. AD pathology is often associated with co-pathologies: cerebrovascular lesions, Lewy pathology, and TDP-43 proteinopathies. These mixed pathologies essentially influence the clinical picture of AD and may accel-erate disease progression. Unraveling the heterogeneity among the AD spectrum entities is important for opening a window to pathogenic mechanisms affecting the brain and enabling precision medicine approaches as a basis for developing preventive and ultimately successful disease-modifying therapies for AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer disease; Alzheimer variants; Co-pathologies; Key network destructions; Regional vulnerability; Subtyping; Tau pathology.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't