Midbrain atrophy is a characteristic feature of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), although it is unclear whether it is associated with the PSP syndrome (PSPS) or PSP pathology. We aimed to determine whether midbrain atrophy is a useful biomarker of PSP pathology, or whether it is only associated with typical PSPS.
We identified all autopsy-confirmed subjects with the PSP clinical phenotype (i.e. PSPS) or PSP pathology and a volumetric MRI. Of 24 subjects with PSP pathology, 11 had a clinical diagnosis of PSPS (PSP-PSPS), and 13 had a non-PSPS clinical diagnosis (PSP-other). Three subjects had PSPS and corticobasal degeneration pathology (CBD-PSPS). Healthy control and disease control groups (i.e. a group without PSPS or PSP pathology) and a group with CBD pathology and corticobasal syndrome (CBD-CBS) were selected. Midbrain area was measured in all subjects.
Midbrain area was reduced in each group with clinical PSPS (with and without PSP pathology). The group with PSP pathology and non-PSPS clinical syndromes did not show reduced midbrain area. Midbrain area was smaller in the subjects with PSPS compared to those without PSPS (p<0.0001), with an area under the receiver-operator-curve of 0.99 (0.88,0.99). A midbrain area cut-point of 92 mm2 provided optimum sensitivity (93%) and specificity (89%) for differentiation.
Midbrain atrophy is associated with the clinical presentation of PSPS, but not with the pathological diagnosis of PSP in the absence of the PSPS clinical syndrome. This finding has important implications for the utility of midbrain measurements as diagnostic biomarkers for PSP pathology.