We investigated whether there exists a hierarchical vulnerability of subcortical structures with respect to the severity of Alzheimer's disease (AD). A total of 236 subjects (179 with AD and 57 with normal cognition) underwent 1.5-T magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. The volumes of the five subcortical structures (amygdala, thalamus, putamen, globus pallidus, and caudate nucleus) and hippocampus were analyzed using a large deformation diffeomorphic metric mapping algorithm. The volume changes were evaluated according to the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR). Correlation between the volumes of the subcortical structures and scores of the cognitive domain-specific neuropsychological tests were evaluated. Volume loss of the amygdala occurred even in the very mild stage of AD (CDR 0.5), as did volume loss in the hippocampus. Similar reductions in volume occurred in the thalamus and putamen, however during the mild (CDR 1) and moderate (CDR 2) stages of AD, respectively. The globus pallidus and caudate nucleus remained devoid of changes until the moderate stage of AD (p < 0.01). Volume loss in those subcortical structures correlated with the neuropsychological test scores (p < 0.01). Our results suggest that there is a hierarchical vulnerability in subcortical structures according to the clinical severity of AD and that subcortical volume reductions correlate with cognitive impairment.
- Alzheimer's disease
- Subcortical structures