Distinctive whole-brain cell types predict tissue damage patterns in thirteen neurodegenerative conditions

Elife. 2024 Mar 21:12:RP89368. doi: 10.7554/eLife.89368.


For over a century, brain research narrative has mainly centered on neuron cells. Accordingly, most neurodegenerative studies focus on neuronal dysfunction and their selective vulnerability, while we lack comprehensive analyses of other major cell types' contribution. By unifying spatial gene expression, structural MRI, and cell deconvolution, here we describe how the human brain distribution of canonical cell types extensively predicts tissue damage in 13 neurodegenerative conditions, including early- and late-onset Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, mutations in presenilin-1, and 3 clinical variants of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (behavioral variant, semantic and non-fluent primary progressive aphasia) along with associated three-repeat and four-repeat tauopathies and TDP43 proteinopathies types A and C. We reconstructed comprehensive whole-brain reference maps of cellular abundance for six major cell types and identified characteristic axes of spatial overlapping with atrophy. Our results support the strong mediating role of non-neuronal cells, primarily microglia and astrocytes, in spatial vulnerability to tissue loss in neurodegeneration, with distinct and shared across-disorder pathomechanisms. These observations provide critical insights into the multicellular pathophysiology underlying spatiotemporal advance in neurodegeneration. Notably, they also emphasize the need to exceed the current neuro-centric view of brain diseases, supporting the imperative for cell-specific therapeutic targets in neurodegeneration.

Keywords: atrophy; brain cell types; cellular vulnerability; human; imaging transcriptomics; neurodegeneration; neurodegenerative diseases; neuroscience.

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*
  • Neurons
  • Parkinson Disease*