Astrogliosis, neuritic microstructure, and sex effects: GFAP is an indicator of neuritic orientation in women

Brain Behav Immun. 2023 Oct:113:124-135. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2023.06.026. Epub 2023 Jun 30.


Background: Data from human studies suggest that immune dysregulation is associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology and cognitive decline and that neurites may be affected early in the disease trajectory. Data from animal studies further indicate that dysfunction in astrocytes and inflammation may have a pivotal role in facilitating dendritic damage, which has been linked with negative cognitive outcomes. To elucidate these relationships further, we have examined the relationship between astrocyte and immune dysregulation, AD-related pathology, and neuritic microstructure in AD-vulnerable regions in late life.

Methods: We evaluated panels of immune, vascular, and AD-related protein markers in blood and conducted in vivo multi-shell neuroimaging using Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging (NODDI) to assess indices of neuritic density (NDI) and dispersion (ODI) in brain regions vulnerable to AD in a cohort of older adults (n = 109).

Results: When examining all markers in tandem, higher plasma GFAP levels were strongly related to lower neurite dispersion (ODI) in grey matter. No biomarker associations were found with higher neuritic density. Associations between GFAP and neuritic microstructure were not significantly impacted by symptom status, APOE status, or plasma Aβ42/40 ratio; however, there was a large sex effect observed for neurite dispersion, wherein negative associations between GFAP and ODI were only observed in females.

Discussion: This study provides a comprehensive, concurrent appraisal of immune, vascular, and AD-related biomarkers in the context of advanced grey matter neurite orientation and dispersion methodology. Sex may be an important modifier of the complex associations between astrogliosis, immune dysregulation, and brain microstructure in older adults.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s; Astrocyte; Glia; Immune; NODDI; Neurites; Normal Aging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease* / pathology
  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Gliosis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neurites / pathology
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • White Matter* / pathology