The dynamics of biomarkers across the clinical spectrum of Alzheimer's disease

Christoforos Hadjichrysanthou*, Stephanie Evans, Sumali Bajaj, Loizos C. Siakallis, Kevin McRae-Mckee, Frank De Wolf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Quantifying changes in the levels of biological and cognitive markers prior to the clinical presentation of Alzheimer's disease (AD) will provide a template for understanding the underlying aetiology of the clinical syndrome and, concomitantly, for improving early diagnosis, clinical trial recruitment and treatment assessment. This study aims to characterise continuous changes of such markers and determine their rate of change and temporal order throughout the AD continuum. Methods: The methodology is founded on the development of stochastic models to estimate the expected time to reach different clinical disease states, for different risk groups, and synchronise short-term individual biomarker data onto a disease progression timeline. Twenty-seven markers are considered, including a range of cognitive scores, cerebrospinal (CSF) and plasma fluid proteins, and brain structural and molecular imaging measures. Data from 2014 participants in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative database is utilised. Results: The model suggests that detectable memory dysfunction could occur up to three decades prior to the onset of dementia due to AD (ADem). This is closely followed by changes in amyloid-β CSF levels and the first cognitive decline, as assessed by sensitive measures. Hippocampal atrophy could be observed as early as the initial amyloid-β accumulation. Brain hypometabolism starts later, about 14 years before onset, along with changes in the levels of total and phosphorylated tau proteins. Loss of functional abilities occurs rapidly around ADem onset. Neurofilament light is the only protein with notable early changes in plasma levels. The rate of change varies, with CSF, memory, amyloid PET and brain structural measures exhibiting the highest rate before the onset of ADem, followed by a decline. The probability of progressing to a more severe clinical state increases almost exponentially with age. In accordance with previous studies, the presence of apolipoprotein E4 alleles and amyloid-β accumulation can be associated with an increased risk of developing the disease, but their influence depends on age and clinical state. Conclusions: Despite the limited longitudinal data at the individual level and the high variability observed in such data, the study elucidates the link between the long asynchronous pathophysiological processes and the preclinical and clinical stages of AD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number74
JournalAlzheimer's Research and Therapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers whose valuable comments have helped us to significantly improve the quality of this study. This study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Dementias Platform UK (DPUK)—grant reference MR/R015600/1. DPUK provided the infrastructure for this project through MRC grant ref. MR/ L023784/2. We acknowledge joint Centre funding from the UK Medical Research Council and the Department for International Development through grant ref. MR/R015600/1. Data collection and sharing for this project was funded by the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) (National Institutes of Health Grant U01 AG024904) and DOD ADNI (Department of Defense award number W81XWH-12-2-0012). The ADNI was launched in 2003 as a public-private partnership, led by principal investigator Michael W. Weiner, MD. The primary goal of ADNI has been to test whether serial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), other biological markers and clinical and neuropsychological assessment can be combined to measure the progression of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and early Alzheimer’s disease (AD). For up-to-date information, see ADNI is funded by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and through generous contributions from the following: AbbVie, Alzheimer’s Association; Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation; Araclon Biotech; BioClinica, Inc.; Biogen; Bristol-Myers Squibb Company; CereSpir, Inc.; Cogstate; Eisai Inc.; Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Eli Lilly and Company; EuroImmun; F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. and its affiliated company Genentech, Inc.; Fujirebio; GE Healthcare; IXICO Ltd.; Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy Research & Development, LLC.; Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development LLC.; Lumosity; Lundbeck; Merck & Co., Inc.; Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC.; NeuroRx Research; Neurotrack Technologies; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation; Pfizer Inc.; Piramal Imaging; Servier; Takeda Pharmaceutical Company; and Transition Therapeutics. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is providing funds to support ADNI clinical sites in Canada. Private sector contributions are facilitated by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health ( The grantee organisation is the Northern California Institute for Research and Education, and the study is coordinated by the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at the University of Southern California. ADNI data are disseminated by the Laboratory for Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California. Data used in the preparation of this article were obtained from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) database (adni.loni.usc. edu). As such, the investigators within the ADNI contributed to the design and implementation of ADNI and/or provided data but did not participate in the analysis or writing of this report. A complete listing of ADNI investigators can be found at ADNI_Acknowledgement_List.pdf.

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Dementias Platform UK (DPUK)—grant reference MR/R015600/1. The funding body had no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, interpretation of data, and writing of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • ADNI
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Biomarker trajectories
  • Brain
  • CSF
  • Clinical states
  • Dementia
  • Markov chain
  • PET
  • Plasma
  • Time to event


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