24 January 2019
Journal of the Royal Society Interface
The prion hypothesis states that misfolded proteins can act as infectious agents that trigger the misfolding and aggregation of healthy proteins to transmit a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. Increasing evidence suggests that pathogenic proteins in Alzheimer's disease adapt prion-like mechanisms and spread across the brain along an anatomically connected network. Local kinetics models of protein misfolding and global network models of protein diffusion provide valuable insight into the dynamics of prion-like diseases. Yet, to date, these models have not been combined to simulate how pathological proteins multiply and spread across the human brain. Here we model the prion-like spreading of Alzheimer's disease by combining misfolding kinetics and network diffusion through a connectivity-weighted Laplacian graph created from 418 brains of the Human Connectome Project. The nodes of the graph represent anatomic regions of interest and the edges represent their connectivity, weighted by the mean fiber number divided by the mean fiber length. We show that our brain network model correctly predicts the neuropathological pattern of Alzheimer's disease and captures the key characteristic features of whole brain models at a fraction of their computational cost. To illustrate the potential of brain network modeling in neurodegeneration, we simulate biomarker curves, infection times, and two promising therapeutic strategies to delay the onset of neurodegeneration: reduced production and increased clearance of misfolded protein.
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