Subtype and Stage Inference (SuStaIn) is an unsupervised learning algorithm that uniquely enables the identification of subgroups of individuals with distinct pseudo-temporal disease progression patterns from cross-sectional datasets. SuStaIn has been used to identify data-driven subgroups and perform patient stratification in neurodegenerative diseases and in lung diseases from continuous biomarker measurements predominantly obtained from imaging. However, the SuStaIn algorithm is not currently applicable to discrete ordinal data, such as visual ratings of images, neuropathological ratings, and clinical and neuropsychological test scores, restricting the applicability of SuStaIn to a narrower range of settings. Here we propose ‘Ordinal SuStaIn’, an ordinal version of the SuStaIn algorithm that uses a scored events model of disease progression to enable the application of SuStaIn to ordinal data. We demonstrate the validity of Ordinal SuStaIn by benchmarking the performance of the algorithm on simulated data. We further demonstrate that Ordinal SuStaIn out-performs the existing continuous version of SuStaIn (Z-score SuStaIn) on discrete scored data, providing much more accurate subtype progression patterns, better subtyping and staging of individuals, and accurate uncertainty estimates. We then apply Ordinal SuStaIn to six different sub-scales of the Clinical Dementia Rating scale (CDR) using data from the Alzheimer’s disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) study to identify individuals with distinct patterns of functional decline. Using data from 819 ADNI1 participants we identified three distinct CDR subtype progression patterns, which were independently verified using data from 790 ADNI2 participants. Our results provide insight into patterns of decline in daily activities in Alzheimer’s disease and a mechanism for stratifying individuals into groups with difficulties in different domains. Ordinal SuStaIn is broadly applicable across different types of ratings data, including visual ratings from imaging, neuropathological ratings and clinical or behavioural ratings data.

Original languageEnglish
Article number613261
JournalFrontiers in artificial intelligence
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2021


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • disease progression modelling
  • ordinal data
  • staging
  • subtyping


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