Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia; however, men and women face differential AD prevalence, presentation, and progression risks. Characterizing metabolomic profiles during AD progression is fundamental to understand the metabolic disruptions and the biological pathways involved. However, outstanding questions remain of whether peripheral metabolic changes occur equally in men and women with AD. Here, we evaluated differential effects of metabolomic and brain volume associations between sexes. We used three cohorts from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), evaluated 1,368 participants, two metabolomic platforms with 380 metabolites in total, and six brain segment volumes. Using dimension reduction techniques, we took advantage of the correlation structure of the brain volume phenotypes and the metabolite concentration values to reduce the number of tests while aggregating relevant biological structures. Using WGCNA, we aggregated modules of highly co-expressed metabolites. On the other hand, we used partial least squares regression-discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) to extract components of brain volumes that maximally co-vary with AD diagnosis as phenotypes. We tested for differences in effect sizes between sexes in the association between single metabolite and metabolite modules with the brain volume components. We found five metabolite modules and 125 single metabolites with significant differences between sexes. These results highlight a differential lipid disruption in AD progression between sexes. Men showed a greater negative association of phosphatidylcholines and sphingomyelins and a positive association of VLDL and large LDL with AD progression. In contrast, women showed a positive association of triglycerides in VLDL and small and medium LDL with AD progression. Explicitly identifying sex differences in metabolomics during AD progression can highlight particular metabolic disruptions in each sex. Our research study and strategy can lead to better-tailored studies and better-suited treatments that take sex differences into account.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; metabolomics; phosphatidylcholine; sex differences; very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).