Alzheimer's Disease Connectome Project

Study Overview

The Alzheimer’s Disease Connectome Project (ADCP) will collect data from participants who range from cognitively healthy to those with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. The goal is to develop robust technology to accurately stage Alzheimer’s disease across the full spectrum of its progression on an individual subject basis.

Specific Aims

  • HCP compatibility. Implement the HCP Life-Span protocols with additional anatomical, functional, & positron emission tomography (PET) sequences tailored for aging and AD.
  • Aberrant connectivity in AD. Acquire and quantitatively characterize the connectome biomarkers in the AD connectome project (ADCP) cohort and determine their individual stages in AD progression.
  • Measure longitudinal changes in brain connectome, diseases stage development, and cognitive changes in the ADCP cohort and prospectively validate the probability distribution of biomarker-based AD stages on an individual subject basis using Markov chain estimation. 
  • Investigate amyloid (Aβ) and tau pathologies as predictors of connectome alterations.

Project Timespan: April 1, 2016 - March 31, 2020


Barbara Bendlin

Barbara Bendlin, Ph.D. - UWisc Principal Investigator

Contact: Email

Shi-Jiang Li

Shi-Jiang Li, Ph.D. - MCW Principal Investigator

Contact: Email

Study Protocol Overview

Data being collected

  • Standard HCP Demographics
  • Imaging: The ADCP will collect structural images, functional (resting state and task), and diffusion-weighted imaging. A sub-set of participants will also undergo tau and amyloid PET with [F18]AV1451 and [C11]PiB.
  • Behavioral: The cognitive battery includes the major components of the HCP battery in addition to tests that are more specific to the deficits found in Alzheimer’s dementia.
  • Clinical: All participants undergo blood draw; samples are stored at the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository (RUCDR). Approximately 70% of participants will also undergo lumbar puncture to determine levels of Alzheimer’s disease related proteins in cerebrospinal fluid (phosphorylated tau and abeta42). 

Cohort Description

Participants will comprise 300 participants (ages 55+) who fall into three groups: 1) healthy older adult control, 2) participants with mild cognitive impairment, and 3) participants with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Data Release Plans

Data will be released in two stages: 1) following completion of baseline data collection; and 2) following completion of longitudinal data collection.


Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, APOE4, positron emission tomography, biomarkers, staging


  • Staging Alzheimer's Disease Risk by Sequencing Brain Function and Structure, Cerebrospinal Fluid, and Cognition Biomarkers.

    Guangyu Chen, Hao Shu, Gang Chen, B Douglas Ward, Piero G Antuono, Zhijun Zhang, Shi-Jiang Li, Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative
    Show Summary

    This study aims to develop a composite biomarker that can accurately measure the sequential biological stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD) on an individual level. We selected 144 subjects from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative 2 datasets. Ten biomarkers, from brain function and structure, cerebrospinal fluid, and cognitive performance, were integrated using the event-based probabilistic model to estimate their optimal temporal sequence (Soptimal). We identified the numerical order of the Soptimal as the characterizing Alzheimer's disease risk events (CARE) index to measure disease stage. The results show that, in the Soptimal, hippocampal and posterior cingulate cortex network biomarkers occur first, followed by aberrant cerebrospinal fluid amyloid-β and p-tau levels, then cognitive deficit, and finally regional gray matter loss and fusiform network abnormality. The CARE index significantly correlates with disease severity and exhibits high reliability. Our findings demonstrate that use of the CARE index would advance AD stage measurement across the whole AD continuum and facilitate personalized treatment of AD.

  • Age-dependent differences in brain tissue microstructure assessed with neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging.

    Andrew P Merluzzi, Douglas C Dean, Nagesh Adluru, Gaurav S Suryawanshi, Ozioma C Okonkwo, Jennifer M Oh, Bruce P Hermann, Mark A Sager, Sanjay Asthana, Hui Zhang, Sterling C Johnson, Andrew L Alexander, Barbara B Bendlin
    Neurobiology of aging, Jun 04, 2016 PMID: 27255817
    Show Summary

    Human aging is accompanied by progressive changes in executive function and memory, but the biological mechanisms underlying these phenomena are not fully understood. Using neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging, we sought to examine the relationship between age, cellular microstructure, and neuropsychological scores in 116 late middle-aged, cognitively asymptomatic participants. Results revealed widespread increases in the volume fraction of isotropic diffusion and localized decreases in neurite density in frontal white matter regions with increasing age. In addition, several of these microstructural alterations were associated with poorer performance on tests of memory and executive function. These results suggest that neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging is capable of measuring age-related brain changes and the neural correlates of poorer performance on tests of cognitive functioning, largely in accordance with published histological findings and brain-imaging studies of people of this age range. Ultimately, this study sheds light on the processes underlying normal brain development in adulthood, knowledge that is critical for differentiating healthy aging from changes associated with dementia.

  • Age-Related Changes in BOLD Activation Pattern in Phonemic Fluency Paradigm: An Investigation of Activation, Functional Connectivity and Psychophysiological Interactions.

    Christian La, Camille Garcia-Ramos, Veena A Nair, Timothy B Meier, Dorothy Farrar-Edwards, Rasmus Birn, Mary E Meyerand, Vivek Prabhakaran
    Show Summary

    Healthy aging is associated with decline of cognitive functions. However, even before those declines become noticeable, the neural architecture underlying those mechanisms has undergone considerable restructuring and reorganization. During performance of a cognitive task, not only have the task-relevant networks demonstrated reorganization with aging, which occurs primarily by recruitment of additional areas to preserve performance, but the task-irrelevant network of the "default-mode" network (DMN), which is normally deactivated during task performance, has also consistently shown reduction of this deactivation with aging. Here, we revisited those age-related changes in task-relevant (i.e., language system) and task-irrelevant (i.e., DMN) systems with a language production paradigm in terms of task-induced activation/deactivation, functional connectivity, and context-dependent correlations between the two systems. Our task fMRI data demonstrated a late increase in cortical recruitment in terms of extent of activation, only observable in our older healthy adult group, when compared to the younger healthy adult group, with recruitment of the contralateral hemisphere, but also other regions from the network previously underutilized. Our middle-aged individuals, when compared to the younger healthy adult group, presented lower levels of activation intensity and connectivity strength, with no recruitment of additional regions, possibly reflecting an initial, uncompensated, network decline. In contrast, the DMN presented a gradual decrease in deactivation intensity and deactivation extent (i.e., low in the middle-aged, and lower in the old) and similar gradual reduction of functional connectivity within the network, with no compensation. The patterns of age-related changes in the task-relevant system and DMN are incongruent with the previously suggested notion of anti-correlation of the two systems. The context-dependent correlation by psycho-physiological interaction (PPI) analysis demonstrated an independence of these two systems, with the onset of task not influencing the correlation between the two systems. Our results suggest that the language network and the DMN may be non-dependent systems, potentially correlated through the re-allocation of cortical resources, and that aging may affect those two systems differently.

  • Age-Related Changes in Inter-Network Connectivity by Component Analysis.

    Christian La, Pouria Mossahebi, Veena A Nair, Barbara B Bendlin, Rasmus Birn, Mary E Meyerand, Vivek Prabhakaran
    Show Summary

    Healthy aging is associated with brain changes that reflect an alteration to a functional unit in response to the available resources and architecture. Even before the onset of noticeable cognitive decline, the neural scaffolds underlying cognitive function undergo considerable change. Prior studies have suggested a disruption of the connectivity pattern within the "default-mode" network (DMN), and more specifically a disruption of the anterio-posterior connectivity. In this study, we explored the effects of aging on within-network connectivity of three DMN subnetworks: a posterior DMN (pDMN), an anterior DMN (aDMN), and a ventral DMN (vDMN); as well as between-network connectivity during resting-state. Using groupICA on 43 young and 43 older healthy adults, we showed a reduction of network co-activation in two of the DMN subnetworks (pDMN and aDMN) and demonstrated a difference in between-component connectivity levels. The older group exhibited more numerous high-correlation pairs (Pearson's rho > 0.3, Number of comp-pairs = 46) in comparison to the young group (Number of comp-pairs = 34), suggesting a more connected/less segregated cortical system. Moreover, three component-pairs exhibited statistically significant differences between the two populations. Visual areas V2-V1 and V2-V4 were more correlated in the older adults, while aDMN-pDMN correlation decreased with aging. The increase in the number of high-correlation component-pairs and the elevated correlation in the visual areas are consistent with the prior hypothesis that aging is associated with a reduction of functional segregation. However, the aDMN-pDMN dis-connectivity may be occurring under a different mechanism, a mechanism more related to a breakdown of structural integrity along the anterio-posterior axis.

  • MPnRAGE: A technique to simultaneously acquire hundreds of differently contrasted MPRAGE images with applications to quantitative T1 mapping.

    Steven Kecskemeti, Alexey Samsonov, Samuel A Hurley, Douglas C Dean, Aaron Field, Andrew L Alexander
    Show Summary

    To introduce a new technique called MPnRAGE, which produces hundreds of images with different T1 contrasts and a B1 corrected T1 map.

  • Age-related reorganizational changes in modularity and functional connectivity of human brain networks.

    Jie Song, Rasmus M Birn, Mélanie Boly, Timothy B Meier, Veena A Nair, Mary E Meyerand, Vivek Prabhakaran
    Brain connectivity, Sep 04, 2014 PMID: 25183440
    Show Summary

    The human brain undergoes both morphological and functional modifications across the human lifespan. It is important to understand the aspects of brain reorganization that are critical in normal aging. To address this question, one approach is to investigate age-related topological changes of the brain. In this study, we developed a brain network model using graph theory methods applied to the resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data acquired from two groups of normal healthy adults classified by age. We found that brain functional networks demonstrated modular organization in both groups with modularity decreased with aging, suggesting less distinct functional divisions across whole brain networks. Local efficiency was also decreased with aging but not with global efficiency. Besides these brain-wide observations, we also observed consistent alterations of network properties at the regional level in the elderly, particularly in two major functional networks-the default mode network (DMN) and the sensorimotor network. Specifically, we found that measures of regional strength, local and global efficiency of functional connectivity were increased in the sensorimotor network while decreased in the DMN with aging. These results indicate that global reorganization of brain functional networks may reflect overall topological changes with aging and that aging likely alters individual brain networks differently depending on the functional properties. Moreover, these findings highly correspond to the observation of decline in cognitive functions but maintenance of primary information processing in normal healthy aging, implying an underlying compensation mechanism evolving with aging to support higher-level cognitive functioning.

  • The effect of scan length on the reliability of resting-state fMRI connectivity estimates.

    Rasmus M Birn, Erin K Molloy, Rémi Patriat, Taurean Parker, Timothy B Meier, Gregory R Kirk, Veena A Nair, M Elizabeth Meyerand, Vivek Prabhakaran
    NeuroImage, Jun 11, 2013 PMID: 23747458
    Show Summary

    There has been an increasing use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) by the neuroscience community to examine differences in functional connectivity between normal control groups and populations of interest. Understanding the reliability of these functional connections is essential to the study of neurological development and degenerate neuropathological conditions. To date, most research assessing the reliability with which resting-state functional connectivity characterizes the brain's functional networks has been on scans between 3 and 11 min in length. In our present study, we examine the test-retest reliability and similarity of resting-state functional connectivity for scans ranging in length from 3 to 27 min as well as for time series acquired during the same length of time but excluding half the time points via sampling every second image. Our results show that reliability and similarity can be greatly improved by increasing the scan lengths from 5 min up to 13 min, and that both the increase in the number of volumes as well as the increase in the length of time over which these volumes was acquired drove this increase in reliability. This improvement in reliability due to scan length is much greater for scans acquired during the same session. Gains in intersession reliability began to diminish after 9-12 min, while improvements in intrasession reliability plateaued around 12-16 min. Consequently, new techniques that improve reliability across sessions will be important for the interpretation of longitudinal fMRI studies.

  • Age-related differences in test-retest reliability in resting-state brain functional connectivity.

    Jie Song, Alok S Desphande, Timothy B Meier, Dana L Tudorascu, Svyatoslav Vergun, Veena A Nair, Bharat B Biswal, Mary E Meyerand, Rasmus M Birn, Pierre Bellec, Vivek Prabhakaran
    PloS one, Dec 11, 2012 PMID: 23227153
    Show Summary

    Resting-state functional MRI (rs-fMRI) has emerged as a powerful tool for investigating brain functional connectivity (FC). Research in recent years has focused on assessing the reliability of FC across younger subjects within and between scan-sessions. Test-retest reliability in resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) has not yet been examined in older adults. In this study, we investigated age-related differences in reliability and stability of RSFC across scans. In addition, we examined how global signal regression (GSR) affects RSFC reliability and stability. Three separate resting-state scans from 29 younger adults (18-35 yrs) and 26 older adults (55-85 yrs) were obtained from the International Consortium for Brain Mapping (ICBM) dataset made publically available as part of the 1000 Functional Connectomes project 92 regions of interest (ROIs) with 5 cubic mm radius, derived from the default, cingulo-opercular, fronto-parietal and sensorimotor networks, were previously defined based on a recent study. Mean time series were extracted from each of the 92 ROIs from each scan and three matrices of z-transformed correlation coefficients were created for each subject, which were then used for evaluation of multi-scan reliability and stability. The young group showed higher reliability of RSFC than the old group with GSR (p-value = 0.028) and without GSR (p-value <0.001). Both groups showed a high degree of multi-scan stability of RSFC and no significant differences were found between groups. By comparing the test-retest reliability of RSFC with and without GSR across scans, we found significantly higher proportion of reliable connections in both groups without GSR, but decreased stability. Our results suggest that aging is associated with reduced reliability of RSFC which itself is highly stable within-subject across scans for both groups, and that GSR reduces the overall reliability but increases the stability in both age groups and could potentially alter group differences of RSFC.

  • Support vector machine classification and characterization of age-related reorganization of functional brain networks.

    Timothy B Meier, Alok S Desphande, Svyatoslav Vergun, Veena A Nair, Jie Song, Bharat B Biswal, Mary E Meyerand, Rasmus M Birn, Vivek Prabhakaran
    NeuroImage, Jan 10, 2012 PMID: 22227886
    Show Summary

    Most of what is known about the reorganization of functional brain networks that accompanies normal aging is based on neuroimaging studies in which participants perform specific tasks. In these studies, reorganization is defined by the differences in task activation between young and old adults. However, task activation differences could be the result of differences in task performance, strategy, or motivation, and not necessarily reflect reorganization. Resting-state fMRI provides a method of investigating functional brain networks without such confounds. Here, a support vector machine (SVM) classifier was used in an attempt to differentiate older adults from younger adults based on their resting-state functional connectivity. In addition, the information used by the SVM was investigated to see what functional connections best differentiated younger adult brains from older adult brains. Three separate resting-state scans from 26 younger adults (18-35 yrs) and 26 older adults (55-85) were obtained from the International Consortium for Brain Mapping (ICBM) dataset made publically available in the 1000 Functional Connectomes project 100 seed-regions from four functional networks with 5mm(3) radius were defined based on a recent study using machine learning classifiers on adolescent brains. Time-series for every seed-region were averaged and three matrices of z-transformed correlation coefficients were created for each subject corresponding to each individual's three resting-state scans. SVM was then applied using leave-one-out cross-validation. The SVM classifier was 84% accurate in classifying older and younger adult brains. The majority of the connections used by the classifier to distinguish subjects by age came from seed-regions belonging to the sensorimotor and cingulo-opercular networks. These results suggest that age-related decreases in positive correlations within the cingulo-opercular and default networks, and decreases in negative correlations between the default and sensorimotor networks, are the distinguishing characteristics of age-related reorganization.

  • Effects of hypoperfusion in Alzheimer's disease.

    Benjamin P Austin, Veena A Nair, Timothy B Meier, Guofan Xu, Howard A Rowley, Cynthia M Carlsson, Sterling C Johnson, Vivek Prabhakaran
    Show Summary

    The role of hypoperfusion in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a vital component to understanding the pathogenesis of this disease. Disrupted perfusion is not only evident throughout disease manifestation, it is also demonstrated during the pre-clinical phase of AD (i.e., mild cognitive impairment) as well as in cognitively healthy persons at high-risk for developing AD due to family history or genetic factors. Studies have used a variety of imaging modalities (e.g., SPECT, MRI, PET) to investigate AD, but with its recent technological advancements and non-invasive use of blood water as an endogenous tracer, arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI has become an imaging technique of growing popularity. Through numerous ASL studies, it is now known that AD is associated with both global and regional cerebral hypoperfusion and that there is considerable overlap between the regions implicated in the disease state (consistently reported in precuneus/posterior cingulate and lateral parietal cortex) and those implicated in disease risk. Debate exists as to whether decreased blood flow in AD is a cause or consequence of the disease. Nonetheless, hypoperfusion in AD is associated with both structural and functional changes in the brain and offers a promising putative biomarker that could potentially identify AD in its pre-clinical state and be used to explore treatments to prevent, or at least slow, the progression of the disease. Finally, given that perfusion is a vascular phenomenon, we provide insights from a vascular lesion model (i.e., stroke) and illustrate the influence of disrupted perfusion on brain structure and function and, ultimately, cognition in AD.

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