Deep learning reveals disease-specific signatures of white matter pathology in tauopathies

Anthony R. Vega, Rati Chkheidze, Vipul Jarmale, Ping Shang, Chan Foong, Marc I. Diamond, Charles L. White, Satwik Rajaram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Although pathology of tauopathies is characterized by abnormal tau protein aggregation in both gray and white matter regions of the brain, neuropathological investigations have generally focused on abnormalities in the cerebral cortex because the canonical aggregates that form the diagnostic criteria for these disorders predominate there. This corticocentric focus tends to deemphasize the relevance of the more complex white matter pathologies, which remain less well characterized and understood. We took a data-driven machine-learning approach to identify novel disease-specific morphologic signatures of white matter aggregates in three tauopathies: Alzheimer disease (AD), progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and corticobasal degeneration (CBD). We developed automated approaches using whole slide images of tau immunostained sections from 49 human autopsy brains (16 AD,13 CBD, 20 PSP) to identify cortex/white matter regions and individual tau aggregates, and compared tau-aggregate morphology across these diseases. Tau burden in the gray and white matter for individual subjects strongly correlated in a highly disease-specific fashion. We discovered previously unrecognized tau morphologies for AD, CBD and PSP that may be of importance in disease classification. Intriguingly, our models classified diseases equally well based on either white or gray matter tau staining. Our results suggest that tau pathology in white matter is informative, disease-specific, and linked to gray matter pathology. Machine learning has the potential to reveal latent information in histologic images that may represent previously unrecognized patterns of neuropathology, and additional studies of tau pathology in white matter could improve diagnostic accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number170
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Histopathology
  • Machine learning
  • Tauopathy
  • White matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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