Repository logo

Fractal dimension of the brain in neurodegenerative disease and dementia: A systematic review.

Accepted version

No Thumbnail Available



Change log


Ziukelis, Elina T 
Dounavi, Maria-Eleni 
Su, Li 
T O'Brien, John 


Sensitive and specific antemortem biomarkers of neurodegenerative disease and dementia are crucial to the pursuit of effective treatments, required both to reliably identify disease and to track its progression. Atrophy is the structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) hallmark of neurodegeneration. However in most cases it likely indicates a relatively advanced stage of disease less susceptible to treatment as some disease processes begin decades prior to clinical onset. Among emerging metrics that characterise brain shape rather than volume, fractal dimension (FD) quantifies shape complexity. FD has been applied in diverse fields of science to measure subtle changes in elaborate structures. We review its application thus far to structural MRI of the brain in neurodegenerative disease and dementia. We identified studies involving subjects who met criteria for mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, Huntington's Disease, Multiple Systems Atrophy, Spinocerebellar Ataxia and Multiple Sclerosis. The early literature suggests that neurodegenerative disease processes are usually associated with a decline in FD of the brain. The literature includes examples of disease-related change in FD occurring independently of atrophy, which if substantiated would represent a valuable advantage over other structural imaging metrics. However, it is likely to be non-specific and to exhibit complex spatial and temporal patterns. A more harmonious methodological approach across a larger number of studies as well as careful attention to technical factors associated with image processing and FD measurement will help to better elucidate the metric's utility.



Cognitive impairment, Cortical complexity, Dementia, Fractal dimension, Magnetic resonance imaging, Neurodegeneration, Alzheimer Disease, Atrophy, Brain, Fractals, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Neurodegenerative Diseases

Journal Title

Ageing Res Rev

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Elsevier BV
Alzheimer's Society (443 (AS-JF-18-017))
Alzheimer's Society UK Cambridge NIHR Biomedical centre Cambridge Centre for Parkinson’s Plus Alzheimer’s Research UK