Frontal white matter lesions in Alzheimer’s disease are associated with both small vessel disease and AD-associated cortical pathology

Kirsty E. McAleese, Mohi Miah, Sophie Graham, Georgina M. Hadfield, Lauren Walker, Mary Johnson, Sean J. Colloby, Alan J. Thomas, Charles DeCarli, David Koss, Johannes Attems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cerebral white matter lesions (WML) encompass axonal loss and demyelination and are assumed to be associated with small vessel disease (SVD)-related ischaemia. However, our previous study in the parietal lobe white matter revealed that WML in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are linked with degenerative axonal loss secondary to the deposition of cortical AD pathology. Furthermore, neuroimaging data suggest that pathomechanisms for the development of WML differ between anterior and posterior lobes with AD-associated degenerative mechanism driving posterior white matter disruption, and both AD-associated degenerative and vascular mechanisms contributed to anterior matter disruption. In this pilot study, we used human post-mortem brain tissue to investigate the composition and aetiology of frontal WML from AD and non-demented controls to determine if frontal WML are SVD-associated and to reveal any regional differences in the pathogenesis of WML. Frontal WML tissue sections from 40 human post-mortem brains (AD, n = 19; controls, n = 21) were quantitatively assessed for demyelination, axonal loss, cortical hyperphosphorylated tau (HPτ) and amyloid-beta (Aβ) burden, and arteriolosclerosis as a measure of SVD. Biochemical assessment included Wallerian degeneration-associated protease calpain and the myelin-associated glycoprotein to proteolipid protein ratio as a measure of ante-mortem ischaemia. Arteriolosclerosis severity was found to be associated with and a significant predictor of frontal WML severity in both AD and non-demented controls. Interesting, frontal axonal loss was also associated with HPτ and calpain levels were associated with increasing Aβ burden in the AD group, suggestive of an additional degenerative influence. To conclude, this pilot data suggest that frontal WML in AD may result from both increased arteriolosclerosis and AD-associated degenerative changes. These preliminary findings in combination with previously published data tentatively indicate regional differences in the aetiology of WML in AD, which should be considered in the clinical diagnosis of dementia subtypes: posterior WML maybe associated with degenerative mechanisms secondary to AD pathology, while anterior WML could be associated with both SVD-associated and degenerative mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalActa Neuropathologica
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyloid-beta
  • Hyperphosphorylated tau
  • Small vessel disease
  • White matter hyperintensity
  • White matter lesion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Frontal white matter lesions in Alzheimer’s disease are associated with both small vessel disease and AD-associated cortical pathology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this