Atypical variants of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have been pathologically defined based on the distribution of neurofibrillary tangles; hippocampal sparing (HpSp) AD shows minimal involvement of the hippocampus and limbic predominant (LP) AD shows neurofibrillary tangles restricted to the medial temporal lobe. We aimed to determine whether MRI patterns of atrophy differ across HpSp AD, LP AD and typical AD, and whether imaging could be a useful predictor of pathological subtype during life.
In this case-control study, we identified 177 patients who had been prospectively followed in the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, were demented during life, had AD pathology at autopsy (Braak stage ≥ IV, intermediate-high probability AD) and an antemortem MRI. Cases were assigned to one of three pathological subtypes (HpSp n=19, typical n=125, or LP AD n=33) based on neurofibrillary tangle counts and their ratio in association cortices to hippocampus, without reference to neuronal loss. Voxel-based morphometry and atlas-based parcellation were used to compare patterns of grey matter loss across groups, and to controls.
The severity of medial temporal and cortical grey matter atrophy differed across subtypes. The most severe medial temporal atrophy was observed in LP AD, followed by typical AD, and then HpSp AD. Conversely, the most severe cortical atrophy was observed in HpSp AD, followed by typical AD, and then LP AD. A ratio of hippocampal-to-cortical volume provided the best discrimination across all three AD subtypes. The majority of typical AD (98/125;78%) and LP AD (31/33;94%) subjects, but only 8/19 (42%) of the HpSp AD subjects, presented with a dominant amnestic syndrome.
Patterns of atrophy on MRI differ across the pathological subtypes of AD, suggesting that MR regional volumetrics reliably track the distribution of neurofibrillary tangle pathology and can predict pathological subtype during life.
US National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Aging)