Data-driven neuropathological staging and subtyping of TDP-43 proteinopathies

Brain. 2023 Jul 3;146(7):2975-2988. doi: 10.1093/brain/awad145.


TAR DNA-binding protein-43 (TDP-43) accumulation is the primary pathology underlying several neurodegenerative diseases. Charting the progression and heterogeneity of TDP-43 accumulation is necessary to better characterize TDP-43 proteinopathies, but current TDP-43 staging systems are heuristic and assume each syndrome is homogeneous. Here, we use data-driven disease progression modelling to derive a fine-grained empirical staging system for the classification and differentiation of frontotemporal lobar degeneration due to TDP-43 (FTLD-TDP, n = 126), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, n = 141) and limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy neuropathologic change (LATE-NC) with and without Alzheimer's disease (n = 304). The data-driven staging of ALS and FTLD-TDP complement and extend previously described human-defined staging schema for ALS and behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia. In LATE-NC individuals, progression along data-driven stages was positively associated with age, but negatively associated with age in individuals with FTLD-TDP. Using only regional TDP-43 severity, our data driven model distinguished individuals diagnosed with ALS, FTLD-TDP or LATE-NC with a cross-validated accuracy of 85.9%, with misclassifications associated with mixed pathological diagnosis, age and genetic mutations. Adding age and SuStaIn stage to this model increased accuracy to 92.3%. Our model differentiates LATE-NC from FTLD-TDP, though some overlap was observed between late-stage LATE-NC and early-stage FTLD-TDP. We further tested for the presence of subtypes with distinct regional TDP-43 progression patterns within each diagnostic group, identifying two distinct cortical-predominant and brainstem-predominant subtypes within FTLD-TDP and a further two subcortical-predominant and corticolimbic-predominant subtypes within ALS. The FTLD-TDP subtypes exhibited differing proportions of TDP-43 type, while there was a trend for age differing between ALS subtypes. Interestingly, a negative relationship between age and SuStaIn stage was seen in the brainstem/subcortical-predominant subtype of each proteinopathy. No subtypes were observed for the LATE-NC group, despite aggregating individuals with and without Alzheimer's disease and a larger sample size for this group. Overall, we provide an empirical pathological TDP-43 staging system for ALS, FTLD-TDP and LATE-NC, which yielded accurate classification. We further demonstrate that there is substantial heterogeneity amongst ALS and FTLD-TDP progression patterns that warrants further investigation in larger cross-cohort studies.

Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; frontotemporal lobar degeneration; limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy; machine learning; neuropathological staging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / pathology
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Frontotemporal Dementia* / pathology
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration* / pathology
  • Humans
  • TDP-43 Proteinopathies* / pathology


  • DNA-Binding Proteins

Supplementary concepts

  • limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy