Disentangling Alzheimer's disease neurodegeneration from typical brain aging using machine learning

by   Gyujoon Hwang, et al.

Neuroimaging biomarkers that distinguish between typical brain aging and Alzheimer's disease (AD) are valuable for determining how much each contributes to cognitive decline. Machine learning models can derive multi-variate brain change patterns related to the two processes, including the SPARE-AD (Spatial Patterns of Atrophy for Recognition of Alzheimer's Disease) and SPARE-BA (of Brain Aging) investigated herein. However, substantial overlap between brain regions affected in the two processes confounds measuring them independently. We present a methodology toward disentangling the two. T1-weighted MRI images of 4,054 participants (48-95 years) with AD, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or cognitively normal (CN) diagnoses from the iSTAGING (Imaging-based coordinate SysTem for AGIng and NeurodeGenerative diseases) consortium were analyzed. First, a subset of AD patients and CN adults were selected based purely on clinical diagnoses to train SPARE-BA1 (regression of age using CN individuals) and SPARE-AD1 (classification of CN versus AD). Second, analogous groups were selected based on clinical and molecular markers to train SPARE-BA2 and SPARE-AD2: amyloid-positive (A+) AD continuum group (consisting of A+AD, A+MCI, and A+ and tau-positive CN individuals) and amyloid-negative (A-) CN group. Finally, the combined group of the AD continuum and A-/CN individuals was used to train SPARE-BA3, with the intention to estimate brain age regardless of AD-related brain changes. Disentangled SPARE models derived brain patterns that were more specific to the two types of the brain changes. Correlation between the SPARE-BA and SPARE-AD was significantly reduced. Correlation of disentangled SPARE-AD was non-inferior to the molecular measurements and to the number of APOE4 alleles, but was less to AD-related psychometric test scores, suggesting contribution of advanced brain aging to these scores.


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