Interpretable classification of Alzheimer’s disease pathologies with a convolutional neural network pipeline

Ziqi Tang, Kangway V. Chuang, Charles DeCarli, Lee-Way Jin, Laurel A Beckett, Michael J. Keiser, Brittany Dugger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Neuropathologists assess vast brain areas to identify diverse and subtly-differentiated morphologies. Standard semi-quantitative scoring approaches, however, are coarse-grained and lack precise neuroanatomic localization. We report a proof-of-concept deep learning pipeline that identifies specific neuropathologies—amyloid plaques and cerebral amyloid angiopathy—in immunohistochemically-stained archival slides. Using automated segmentation of stained objects and a cloud-based interface, we annotate > 70,000 plaque candidates from 43 whole slide images (WSIs) to train and evaluate convolutional neural networks. Networks achieve strong plaque classification on a 10-WSI hold-out set (0.993 and 0.743 areas under the receiver operating characteristic and precision recall curve, respectively). Prediction confidence maps visualize morphology distributions at high resolution. Resulting network-derived amyloid beta (Aβ)-burden scores correlate well with established semi-quantitative scores on a 30-WSI blinded hold-out. Finally, saliency mapping demonstrates that networks learn patterns agreeing with accepted pathologic features. This scalable means to augment a neuropathologist’s ability suggests a route to neuropathologic deep phenotyping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2173
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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