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Neuroimage Clin. 2017 Sep 14;16:595-603. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2017.09.007. eCollection 2017.

Longitudinal white matter change in frontotemporal dementia subtypes and sporadic late onset Alzheimer's disease.

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Memory and Aging Center, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, United States.
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, United States.
Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, United States.
Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, University of California, San Francisco, United States.



Degradation of white matter microstructure has been demonstrated in frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). In preparation for clinical trials, ongoing studies are investigating the utility of longitudinal brain imaging for quantification of disease progression. To date only one study has examined sample size calculations based on longitudinal changes in white matter integrity in FTLD.


To quantify longitudinal changes in white matter microstructural integrity in the three canonical subtypes of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and AD using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).


60 patients with clinical diagnoses of FTD, including 27 with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), 14 with non-fluent variant primary progressive aphasia (nfvPPA), and 19 with semantic variant PPA (svPPA), as well as 19 patients with AD and 69 healthy controls were studied. We used a voxel-wise approach to calculate annual rate of change in fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) in each group using two time points approximately one year apart. Mean rates of change in FA and MD in 48 atlas-based regions-of-interest, as well as global measures of cognitive function were used to calculate sample sizes for clinical trials (80% power, alpha of 5%).


All FTD groups showed statistically significant baseline and longitudinal white matter degeneration, with predominant involvement of frontal tracts in the bvFTD group, frontal and temporal tracts in the PPA groups and posterior tracts in the AD group. Longitudinal change in MD yielded a larger number of regions with sample sizes below 100 participants per therapeutic arm in comparison with FA. SvPPA had the smallest sample size based on change in MD in the fornix (n = 41 participants per study arm to detect a 40% effect of drug), and nfvPPA and AD had their smallest sample sizes based on rate of change in MD within the left superior longitudinal fasciculus (n = 49 for nfvPPA, and n = 23 for AD). BvFTD generally showed the largest sample size estimates (minimum n = 140 based on MD in the corpus callosum). The corpus callosum appeared to be the best region for a potential study that would include all FTD subtypes. Change in global measure of functional status (CDR box score) yielded the smallest sample size for bvFTD (n = 71), but clinical measures were inferior to white matter change for the other groups.


All three of the canonical subtypes of FTD are associated with significant change in white matter integrity over one year. These changes are consistent enough that drug effects in future clinical trials could be detected with relatively small numbers of participants. While there are some differences in regions of change across groups, the genu of the corpus callosum is a region that could be used to track progression in studies that include all subtypes.


AD; Behavioral variant FTD; Clinical trial; DTI; FTD; Longitudinal; Primary progressive aphasia; Sample size; White matter integrity

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