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S. Censi, C. Sestieri, M. Punzi, A. Delli Pizzi, A. Ferretti, F. Gambi, V. Tomassini, S. Delli Pizzi, S.L. Sensi, for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative

BACKGROUND: Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) exhibit structural alterations of the thalamus that correlate with clinical symptoms. However, given the anatomical complexity of this brain structure, it is still unclear whether atrophy affects specific thalamic nuclei and modulates the clinical progression from a prodromal stage, known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), to full-fledged AD. OBJECTIVES: To characterize the structural integrity of distinct thalamic nuclei across the AD spectrum, testing whether MCI patients who convert to AD (c-MCI) show a distinctive pattern of thalamic structural alterations compared to patients who remain stable (s-MCI). DESIGN: Investigating between-group differences in the volumetric features of distinct thalamic nuclei across the AD spectrum. SETTING: Prodromal and clinical stages of AD. PARTICIPANTS: We analyzed data from 84 healthy control subjects (HC), 58 individuals with MCI, and 102 AD patients. The dataset was obtained from the AD Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI-3) database. The MCI group was further divided into two subgroups depending on whether patients remained stable (s-MCI, n=22) or progressed to AD (s-MCI, n=36) in the 48 months following the diagnosis. MEASUREMENTS: A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) assessed group differences in the volumetric features of distinct thalamic nuclei obtained from magnetic resonance (MR) images. A stepwise discriminant function analysis identified which feature most effectively predicted the conversion to AD. The corresponding predictive performance was evaluated through a Receiver Operating Characteristic approach. RESULTS: AD and c-MCI patients showed generalized atrophy of thalamic nuclei compared to HC. In contrast, no significant structural differences were observed between s-MCI and HC subjects. Compared to s-MCI, c-MCI individuals displayed significant atrophy of the nucleus reuniens and a trend toward significant atrophy in the anteroventral and laterodorsal nuclei. The discriminant function analysis confirmed the nucleus reuniens as a significant predictor of AD conversion, with a sensitivity of 0.73 and a specificity of 0.69. CONCLUSIONS: In line with the pathophysiological relevance of the nucleus reuniens proposed by seminal post-mortem studies on patients with AD, we confirm the pivotal role of this nucleus as a critical hub in the clinical progression to AD. We also propose a theoretical model to explain the evolving dysfunction of subcortical brain networks in the disease process.

S. Censi ; C. Sestieri ; M. Punzi ; A. Delli Pizzi ; A. Ferretti ; F. Gambi ; V. Tomassini ; S. Delli Pizzi ; S.L. Sensi ; for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (2024): “Back to Braak”: Role of Nucleus Reuniens and Subcortical Pathways in Alzheimer’s Disease Progression. The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease (JPAD).


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