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Keywords:

  • DTI;
  • microstructure;
  • MCI;
  • AD conversion;
  • limbic;
  • perforant pathway

ABSTRACT

Noninvasive diagnostic tests for Alzheimer's disease (AD) are limited. Postmortem diagnosis is based on density and distribution of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) and amyloid-rich neuritic plaques. In preclinical stages of AD, the cells of origin for the perforant pathway within the entorhinal cortex are among the first to display NFTs, indicating its compromise in early stages of AD. We used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to assess the integrity of the parahippocampal white matter in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD, as a first step in developing a noninvasive tool for early diagnosis. Subjects with AD (N = 9), MCI (N = 8), or no cognitive impairment (NCI; N = 20) underwent DTI-MRI. Fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean (MD) and radial (RD) diffusivity measured from the parahippocampal white matter in AD and NCI subjects differed greatly. Discriminant analysis in the MCI cases assigned statistical membership of 38% of MCI subjects to the AD group. Preliminary data 1 year later showed that all MCI cases assigned to the AD group either met the diagnostic criteria for probable AD or showed significant cognitive decline. Voxelwise analysis in the parahippocampal white matter revealed a progressive change in the DTI patterns in MCI and AD subjects: whereas converted MCI cases showed structural changes restricted to the anterior portions of this region, in AD the pathology was generalized along the entire anterior–posterior axis. The use of DTI for in vivo assessment of the parahippocampal white matter may be useful for identifying individuals with MCI at highest risk for conversion to AD and for assessing disease progression. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:4300–4317, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.