November 16, 2020

Imaging “biomarker” for Alzheimer’s disease progression

Changes in connectivity in the brain’s white matter may be a novel neuroimaging biomarker for assessing Alzheimer’s disease progression.

Measuring changes in functional connectivity of the brain’s white matter, which is made up of nerve fibers and their protective myelin coating, can predict Alzheimer’s disease progression, researchers in the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science have found. 

Previous studies have correlated variations in blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signals detected by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with reduced neural activity in gray matter, which contains most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies. 

Noting that degenerative changes are more prominent in white matter in early-stage disease, Yurui Gao, PhD, and colleagues applied the fMRI technique to study functional connectivity in white matter in patients with different stages of cognitive impairments and in healthy controls. 

Reporting in the journal PLOS ONE, they found significant decreases in functional connectivity in white matter that correlated with neuropsychological measurements of cognitive and memory impairments. White matter functional connectivity thus may be a novel neuroimaging biomarker for assessing Alzheimer’s disease progression, they concluded.

National Institutes of Health grants NS093669 and NS113832 (to John Gore, PhD) and Vanderbilt University Discovery Grant 600670 (to Gao and Baxter Rogers, PhD) supported the research.