RSNA: MRI reveals gender-based differences in AD development

CHICAGO—The pattern of gray matter loss among Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients is significantly different between men and women, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“We found that the extent and distribution of regional gray matter volume loss in the brain was strongly influenced by gender,” said lead researcher Maria Vittoria Spampinato, MD, associate professor of radiology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Spampinato and colleagues analyzed MRI data from 109 patients—60 men and 49 women—who participated in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a study that followed hundreds of cognitively healthy individuals and individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD for five years.

Over the study period, each of the 109 patients progressed from amnestic MCI to AD. Brain maps created with MRI 12 months before and after diagnosis revealed that women had greater atrophy in gray matter both prior to and after diagnosis.

Results also showed that over time, men caught up to women in the level of gray matter atrophy. “In the men, the disease developed more aggressively in a shorter period of time,” said Spampinato.

As for the cause of the gender-based differences, Spampinato said research has not found a single unifying reason. “We know that there are a combination of hormonal factors, most definitely. Perhaps differential exposure to risk factors during life is also an element.”

Research into these gender differences should be considered when testing new drug therapies, added Spampinato.