An MRI-based strategy for differentiation of frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center, the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, the Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration Neuroimaging Initiative

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The differential diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is difficult due to the overlaps of clinical symptoms. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI) presents distinct brain atrophy and potentially helps in their differentiation. In this study, we aim at deriving a novel integrated index by leveraging the volumetric measures in brain regions with significant difference between AD and FTD and developing an MRI-based strategy for the differentiation of FTD and AD. Methods: In this study, the data were acquired from three different databases, including 47 subjects with FTD, 47 subjects with AD, and 47 normal controls in the NACC database; 50 subjects with AD in the ADNI database; and 50 subjects with FTD in the FTLDNI database. The MR images of all subjects were automatically segmented, and the brain atrophy, including the AD resemblance atrophy index (AD-RAI), was quantified using AccuBrain®. A novel MRI index, named the frontotemporal dementia index (FTDI), was derived as the ratio between the weighted sum of the volumetric indexes in “FTD dominant” structures over that obtained from “AD dominant” structures. The weights and the identification of “FTD/AD dominant” structures were acquired from the statistical analysis of NACC data. The differentiation performance of FTDI was validated using independent data from ADNI and FTLDNI databases. Results: AD-RAI is a proven imaging biomarker to identify AD and FTD from NC with significantly higher values (p < 0.001 and AUC = 0.88) as we reported before, while no significant difference was found between AD and FTD (p = 0.647). FTDI showed excellent accuracy in identifying FTD from AD (AUC = 0.90; SEN = 89%, SPE = 75% with threshold value = 1.08). The validation using independent data from ADNI and FTLDNI datasets also confirmed the efficacy of FTDI (AUC = 0.93; SEN = 96%, SPE = 70% with threshold value = 1.08). Conclusions: Brain atrophy in AD, FTD, and normal elderly shows distinct patterns. In addition to AD-RAI that is designed to detect abnormal brain atrophy in dementia, a novel index specific to FTD is proposed and validated. By combining AD-RAI and FTDI, an MRI-based decision strategy was further proposed as a promising solution for the differential diagnosis of AD and FTD in clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number23
JournalAlzheimer's Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • AD resemblance atrophy index
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia index
  • Structural magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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