Cortical progression patterns in individual ALS patients across multiple timepoints: a mosaic-based approach for clinical use.
The majority of imaging studies in ALS infer group-level imaging signatures from group comparisons, as opposed to estimating disease burden in individual patients. In a condition with considerable clinical heterogeneity, the characterisation of individual patterns of pathology is hugely relevant. In this study, we evaluate a strategy to track progressive cortical involvement in single patients by using subject-specific reference cohorts.We have interrogated a multi-timepoint longitudinal dataset of 61 ALS patients to demonstrate the utility of estimating cortical disease burden and the expansion of cerebral atrophy over time. We contrast our strategy to the gold-standard approach to gauge the advantages and drawbacks of our method. We modelled the evolution of cortical integrity in a conditional growth model, in which we accounted for age, gender, disability, symptom duration, education and handedness. We hypothesised that the variance associated with demographic variables will be successfully eliminated in our approach.In our model, the only covariate which modulated the expansion of atrophy was motor disability as measured by the ALSFRS-r (t(153) = - 2.533, p = 0.0123). Using the standard approach, age also significantly influenced progression of CT change (t(153) = - 2.151, p = 0.033) demonstrating the validity and potential clinical utility of our approach.Our strategy of estimating the extent of cortical atrophy in individual patients with ALS successfully corrects for demographic factors and captures relevant cortical changes associated with clinical disability. Our approach provides a framework to interpret single T1-weighted images in ALS and offers an opportunity to track cortical propagation patterns both at individual subject level and at cohort level.