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Keywords:

  • Alzheimer disease;
  • anatomical connectivity mapping;
  • AChE inhibitor;
  • brain plasticity;
  • diffusion MRI

A previous preliminary investigation based on a novel MRI approach to map anatomical connectivity revealed areas of increased connectivity in Alzheimer's disease (AD) but not in mild cognitive impairment patients. This prompted the hypothesis tested here, that these areas might reflect phenomena of brain plasticity driven by acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEIs). Thirty-eight patients with probable AD (19 under medication with AChEIs and 19 drug-naïve) were recruited together with 11 healthy controls. All subjects had MRI scanning at 3T, including volumetric and diffusion-weighted scans. Probabilistic tractography was used to initiate streamlines from all parenchymal voxels, and anatomical connectivity maps (ACMs) were obtained by counting, among the total number of streamlines initiated, the fraction passing through each brain voxel. After normalization into standard space, ACMs were used to test for between-group comparisons, and for interactions between the exposure to AChEIs and global level of cognition. Patients with AD had reduced ACM values in the fornix, cingulum, and supramarginal gyri. The ACM value was strongly associated with the AChEI dosage-x-duration product in the anterior limb (non-motor pathway) of the internal capsule. Tractography from this region identified the anterior thalamic radiation as the main white matter (WM) tract passing through it. The reduced connectivity in WM bundles connecting the hippocampi with the rest of the brain (fornix/cingulum) suggests a possible mechanism for the spread of AD pathology. An intriguing explanation for the interaction between AChEIs and ACM is related to the mechanisms of brain plasticity, partially driven by neurotrophic properties of acetylcholine replacement. Hum Brain Mapp 34:3158–3167, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.