Multiple system atrophy (MSA) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) belong to alpha-synucleinopathy, but they have very different clinical courses and prognoses. An imaging biomarker that can differentiate between the two diseases early in the disease course is desirable for appropriate treatment. Neuroimaging-based brain age paradigm provides an individualized marker to differentiate aberrant brain aging patterns in neurodegenerative diseases. In this study, patients with MSA (N = 23), PD (N = 33), and healthy controls (N = 34; HC) were recruited. A deep learning approach was used to estimate brain-predicted age difference (PAD) of gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) based on image features extracted from T1-weighted and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance images, respectively. Spatial normative models of image features were utilized to quantify neuroanatomical impairments in patients, which were then used to estimate the contributions of image features to brain age measures. For PAD of GM (GM-PAD), patients with MSA had significantly older brain age (9.33 years) than those with PD (0.75 years; P = 0.002) and HC (-1.47 years; P < 0.001), and no significant difference was found between PD and HC (P = 1.000). For PAD of WM (WM-PAD), it was significantly greater in MSA (9.27 years) than that in PD (1.90 years; P = 0.037) and HC (-0.74 years; P < 0.001); there was no significant difference between PD and HC (P = 0.087). The most salient image features that contributed to PAD in MSA and PD were different. For GM, they were the orbitofrontal regions and the cuneus in MSA and PD, respectively, and for WM, they were the central corpus callosum and the uncinate fasciculus in MSA and PD, respectively. Our results demonstrated that MSA revealed significantly greater PAD than PD, which might be related to markedly different neuroanatomical contributions to brain aging. The image features with distinct contributions to brain aging might be of value in the differential diagnosis of MSA and PD.
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