Differential vulnerability of the cerebellum in healthy ageing and Alzheimer’s disease

Helena M. Gellersen, Xavier Guell, Saber Sami

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Abstract

Recent findings challenge the prior notion that the cerebellum remains unaffected by Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Yet, it is unclear whether AD exacerbates age-related cerebellar grey matter decline or engages distinct structural and functional territories. We performed a meta-analysis of cerebellar grey matter loss in normal ageing and AD. We mapped voxels with structural decline onto established brain networks, functional parcellations, and along gradients that govern the functional organisation of the cerebellum. Importantly, these gradients track continuous changes in cerebellar specialisation providing a more nuanced measure of the functional profile of regions vulnerable to ageing and AD. Gradient 1 progresses from motor to cognitive territories; Gradient 2 isolates attentional processing; Gradient 3 captures lateralisation differences in cognitive functions. We identified bilateral and right-lateralised posterior cerebellar atrophy in ageing and AD, respectively. Age- and AD-related structural decline only showed partial spatial overlap in right lobule VI/Crus I. Despite the seemingly distinct patterns of AD- and age-related atrophy, the functional profiles of these regions were similar. Both participate in the same macroscale networks (default mode, frontoparietal, attention), support executive functions and language processing, and did not exhibit a difference in relative positions along Gradients 1 or 2. However, Gradient 3 values were significantly different in ageing vs. AD, suggesting that the roles of left and right atrophied cerebellar regions exhibit subtle functional differences despite their membership in similar macroscale networks. These findings provide an unprecedented characterisation of structural and functional differences and similarities in cerebellar grey matter loss between normal ageing and AD.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102605
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Volume30
Early online date4 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cerebellum
  • Functional gradients
  • Grey matter loss

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