Subtypes of brain change in aging and their associations with cognition and Alzheimer's disease biomarkers

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Mar 7:2024.03.04.583291. doi: 10.1101/2024.03.04.583291.


Structural brain changes underly cognitive changes in older age and contribute to inter-individual variability in cognition. Here, we assessed how changes in cortical thickness, surface area, and subcortical volume, are related to cognitive change in cognitively unimpaired older adults using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data-driven clustering. Specifically, we tested (1) which brain structural changes over time predict cognitive change in older age (2) whether these are associated with core cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Alzheimer's disease (AD) biomarkers phosphorylated tau (p-tau) and amyloid-β (Aβ42), and (3) the degree of overlap between clusters derived from different structural features. In total 1899 cognitively healthy older adults (50 - 93 years) were followed up to 16 years with neuropsychological and structural MRI assessments, a subsample of which (n = 612) had CSF p-tau and Aβ42 measurements. We applied Monte-Carlo Reference-based Consensus clustering to identify subgroups of older adults based on structural brain change patterns over time. Four clusters for each brain feature were identified, representing the degree of longitudinal brain decline. Each brain feature provided a unique contribution to brain aging as clusters were largely independent across modalities. Cognitive change and baseline cognition were best predicted by cortical area change, whereas higher levels of p-tau and Aβ42 were associated with changes in subcortical volume. These results provide insights into the link between changes in brain morphology and cognition, which may translate to a better understanding of different aging trajectories.

Keywords: Ageotypes; CSF AD biomarkers; Cognitively unimpaired older adults; Longitudinal MRI; Memory.

Publication types

  • Preprint