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Comparison of different MRI-based morphometric estimates for defining neurodegeneration across the Alzheimer's disease continuum

Journal article
Authors S. L. Allison
R. L. Koscik
R. P. Cary
E. M. Jonaitis
H. A. Rowley
N. A. Chin
Henrik Zetterberg
Kaj Blennow
C. M. Carlsson
S. Asthana
B. B. Bendlin
S. C. Johnson
Published in NeuroImage: Clinical
Volume 23
ISSN 2213-1582
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience
Language en
Keywords Alzheimer's disease, Amyloid, FreeSurfer, Hippocampus, Neurodegeneration
Subject categories Neurosciences


Background: Several neurodegeneration (N) metrics using structural MRI are used for the purpose of Alzheimer's disease (AD)-related staging, including hippocampal volume, global atrophy, and an “AD signature” composite consisting of thickness or volumetric estimates derived from regions impacted early in AD. This study sought to determine if less user-intensive estimates of global atrophy and hippocampal volume were equivalent to a thickness-based AD signature from FreeSurfer for defining N across the AD continuum (i.e., individuals who are amyloid-positive (A+)). Methods: Cognitively unimpaired (CU) late middle-aged and older adults, as well as A+ mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and A+ AD dementia individuals, with available CSF and structural MRI scan <1.5 years apart, were selected for the study (n = 325, mean age = 62). First, in a subsample of A+ AD dementia and matched biomarker-negative (i.e., A- and tau tangle pathology (T)-) CU controls (n = 40), we examined ROC characteristics and identified N cut-offs using Youden's J for neurofilament light chain protein (NfL) and each of three MRI-based measures: a thickness-based AD signature from FreeSurfer, hippocampal volume (using FIRST), and a simple estimate of global atrophy (the ratio of intracranial CSF segmented volume to brain tissue volume, using SPM12). Based on the results from the ROC analyses, we then examined the concordance between NfL N positivity and N positivity for each MRI-based metric using Cohen's Kappa in the remaining subsample of 285 individuals. Finally, in the full sample (n = 325), we examined the relationship between the four measures of N and group membership across the AD continuum using Kruskal-Wallis tests and Cliff's deltas. Results: The three MRI-based metrics and CSF NfL similarly discriminated between the A-T- CU (n = 20) and A+ AD (n = 20) groups (AUCs ≥0.885; ps < 0.001). Using the cut-off values derived from the ROCs to define N positivity, there was weak concordance between NfL and all three MRI-derived metrics of N in the subsample of 285 individuals (Cohen's Kappas ≤0.429). Finally, the three MRI-based measures of N and CSF NfL showed similar associations with AD continuum group (i.e., Kruskal-Wallis ps < 0.001), with relatively larger effect sizes noted when comparing the A-T- CU to the A+ MCI (Cliff's deltas ≥0.741) and A+ AD groups (Cliff's deltas ≥0.810) than to the A+T- CU (Cliff's deltas = 0.112–0.298) and A + T+ CU groups (Cliff's deltas = 0.212–0.731). Conclusions: These findings suggest that the three MRI-based morphometric estimates and CSF NfL similarly differentiate individuals across the AD continuum on N status. In many applications, a simple estimate of global atrophy may be preferred as an MRI marker of N across the AD continuum given its methodological robustness and ease of calculation when compared to hippocampal volume or a cortical thickness AD signature. © 2019

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