News Release

Alzheimer’s pathology, not cognitive decline, drives neuropsychiatric symptoms

Biomarkers of pathology associated with apathy, anxiety

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Philadelphia, March 16, 2022 Alzheimer’s disease (AD) eventually leads to severe cognitive decline, but most affected individuals also develop distressing neuropsychiatric symptoms. These earlier effects may be more subtle and are not well understood; it remains unclear whether they arise directly from AD pathology or secondarily as psychological reactions due to the cognitive deficits. Now, a new study examines the connections between biomarkers of AD’s hallmark neuropathology, cognition, and other neuropsychiatric symptoms. The study appears in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier.

The researchers, led by Oskar Hansson, MD, at Lund University in Sweden, tested cerebrospinal fluid or blood plasma from 356 cognitively unimpaired older adults for levels of the proteins amyloid-beta (Ab) and tau, which are thought to contribute to AD neurotoxicity, as well as markers of neurodegeneration.

Strikingly, the presence of Ab was associated with increased anxiety and apathy. Higher levels of apathy were also related to a more rapid cognitive decline.

“Most importantly, this study signals that certain neuropsychiatric symptoms such as apathy and anxiety develop predominantly due to underlying AD-related pathology and not due to the concomitant cognitive impairment,” said Maurits Johansson, MD, lead author of the study. “It seems reasonable that neuropsychiatric symptoms would arise from neuropathology just as cognitive deficits do, especially because AD ultimately affects large areas of the brain,” he added.

The study did not exclude a role for cognitive impairment altogether. For example, in one of the statistical analyses, cognitive decline slightly but significantly mediated the effect of amyloid pathology on the development of apathy.

“Combined with earlier studies, our findings strengthen the proposed idea that cognitive deficits and neuropsychiatric symptoms can develop independently, yet in parallel to one another. They have a common underlying neuropathology, but to some extent they can also reinforce one another,” said Professor Hansson.

“These findings could ultimately lead to more efficient study design of clinical trials for AD in that they point to neuropsychiatric symptoms as potential alternative outcome measures,” concluded Professor Hansson.

John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, said of the new findings, "We are used to thinking about Alzheimer's disease from the perspective of memory impairments. This new study highlights that the earliest signs of amyloid-related pathology may be changes in mood and behavior, particularly apathy and anxiety."


Notes for editors
The article is "Development of apathy, anxiety, and depression in cognitively unimpaired older adults: Effects of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and cognitive decline," by Maurits Johansson, Erik Stomrud, Per Mårten Johansson, Anna Svenningsson, Sebastian Palmqvist, Snhorena Janelidze, Danielle van Westen, Niklas Mattsson-Carlgren, Oskar Hansson ( It appears as an Article in Press in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Rhiannon Bugno at  or +1 254 522 9700. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Maurits Johansson at or +46 (0)733820408 or Oskar Johansson at or +46 (0)722267745.

The authors’ affiliations and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry
Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 7th out of 156 Psychiatry titles and 11th out of 273 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Clarivate Analytics. The 2020 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 13.382.

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Media contact
Rhiannon Bugno, Editorial Office
Biological Psychiatry
+1 254 522 9700

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