Saturday, November 10, 2012

Biomarker Changes Precede Symptoms by 20 Years

Click on image to play movie
Amyloid accumulation. Cross-sectional analysis using florbetapir PET shows that brain amyloid deposits ramp up steeply in AD mutation carriers between the ages of 28 and 38, several years before clinical symptoms appear. Movie courtesy of Adam Fleisher and Lancet Neurology

Evidence keeps building that the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease appear decades before symptoms. In two companion papers in the November 6 Lancet Neurology, theAlzheimer’s Prevention Initiative (API) formally published cross-sectional biomarker data from young adults who carry a presenilin 1 mutation and are destined to develop AD. Researchers led by Eric Reiman at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Phoenix, Arizona, and Francisco Lopera, University of Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia, report that mutation carriers show structural and functional brain abnormalities characteristic of AD more than two decades before they are expected to develop cognitive symptoms of the disease. Notably, the changes occur in the presence of high levels of Aβ42, but before there is evidence of amyloid accumulation in the brain. Although it is not yet proven that these results will generalize to late-onset AD, researchers noted the changes are consistent with brain imaging findings in young adults at increased risk for sporadic AD, suggesting the two forms of the disease progress similarly. The researchers saw the first evidence of amyloid deposits about 16 years before the expected symptom onset, in agreement with findings from the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) cohort. Much of these data were previously presented at conferences.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Preclinical Alzheimer disease: identification of cases at risk among cognitively intact older individuals

Hypothetical model of preclinical Alzheimer's disease (AD). According to the proposed model, the group currently defined as 'preclinical AD' is heterogeneous and comprises two subpopulations. Firstly, there is the group of individuals at different stages of preclinical AD defined by the biomarkers indicated in the lower panel of the figure. All of these individuals will progress to dementia, and we call this phase 'presymptomatic AD'. The second group comprises individuals who are positive for amyloid markers and neuronal injury markers, and fall into one of the stages of preclinical AD, based on the current classification. However, this population has efficient active compensatory mechanisms, and remains resistant to dementia (stable asymptomatic cerebral amyloidosis).
Since the first description of the case of Auguste Deter, presented in Tübingen in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer, there has been an exponential increase in our knowledge of the neuropathological, cellular, and molecular foundation of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The concept of AD pathogenesis has evolved from a static, binary view discriminating cognitive normality from dementia, towards a dynamic view that considers AD pathology as a long-lasting morbid process that takes place progressively over years, or even decades, before the first symptoms become apparent, and thus operating in a continuum between the two aforementioned extreme states. Several biomarkers have been proposed to predict AD-related cognitive decline, initially in cases with mild cognitive impairment, and more recently in cognitively intact individuals. These early markers define at-risk individuals thought to be in the preclinical phase of AD. However, the clinical relevance of this preclinical phase remains controversial. The fate of such individuals, who are cognitively intact, but positive for some early AD biomarkers, is currently uncertain at best. In this report, we advocate the point of view that although most of these preclinical cases will evolve to clinically overt AD, some appear to have efficient compensatory mechanisms and virtually never develop dementia. We critically review the currently available early AD markers, discuss their clinical relevance, and propose a novel classification of preclinical AD, designating these non-progressing cases as 'stable asymptomatic cerebral amyloidosis'.

BMC Medicine 2012, 10:127 doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-127 © 2012 Lazarczyk et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fluid-Attenuated Inversion Recovery Hypointensity of the Pulvinar Nucleus of Patients with Alzheimer Disease: Its Possible Association with Iron Accumulation as Evidenced by the T2* Map

Difference of fluid-attenuated inversion recovery signal intensity and T2* values of thalamic pulvinar nuclei in Alzheimer disease subject and control subject. There is no discernable hypointensity (A) and T2* shortening (B) of pulvinar nuclei in age-matched control subject. In contrast, white arrows indicate bilateral hypointense pulvinar nuclei relative to remaining thalami in patient with Alzheimer disease (C). Prominent T2* shortening is noted in this patient (arrows) (D).
Objective We hypothesized that prominent pulvinar hypointensity in brain MRI represents the disease process due to iron accumulation in Alzheimer disease (AD). We aimed to determine whether or not the pulvinar signal intensity (SI) on the fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) sequences at 3.0T MRI differs between AD patients and normal subjects, and also whether the pulvinar SI is correlated with the T2* map, an imaging marker for tissue iron, and a cognitive scale.
Materials and Methods Twenty one consecutive patients with AD and 21 age-matched control subjects were prospectively included in this study. The pulvinar SI was assessed on the FLAIR image. We measured the relative SI ratio of the pulvinar to the corpus callosum. The T2* values were calculated from the T2* relaxometry map. The differences between the two groups were analyzed, by using a Student t test. The correlation between the measurements was assessed by the Pearson's correlation test.
Results As compared to the normal white matter, the FLAIR signal intensity of the pulvinar nucleus was significantly more hypointense in the AD patients than in the control subjects (p < 0.01). The pulvinar T2* was shorter in the AD patients than in the control subjects (51.5 ± 4.95 ms vs. 56.5 ± 5.49 ms, respectively, p = 0.003). The pulvinar SI ratio was strongly correlated with the pulvinar T2* (r = 0.745, p < 0.001). When controlling for age, only the pulvinar-to-CC SI ratio was positively correlated with that of the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score (r = 0.303, p < 0.050). Conversely, the pulvinar T2* was not correlated with the MMSE score (r = 0.277, p = 0.080).
Conclusion The FLAIR hypointensity of the pulvinar nucleus represents an abnormal iron accumulation in AD and may be used as an adjunctive finding for evaluating AD.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Enrichment and Stratification for Predementia Alzheimer Disease Clinical Trials

The tau and amyloid pathobiological processes underlying Alzheimer disease (AD) progresses slowly over periods of decades before clinical manifestation as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), then more rapidly to dementia, and eventually to end-stage organ failure. The failure of clinical trials of candidate disease modifying therapies to slow disease progression in patients already diagnosed with early AD has led to increased interest in exploring the possibility of early intervention and prevention trials, targeting MCI and cognitively healthy (HC) populations. Here, we stratify MCI individuals based on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers and structural atrophy risk factors for the disease. We also stratify HC individuals into risk groups on the basis of CSF biomarkers for the two hallmark AD pathologies. Results show that the broad category of MCI can be decomposed into subsets of individuals with significantly different average regional atrophy rates. By thus selectively identifying individuals, combinations of these biomarkers and risk factors could enable significant reductions in sample size requirements for clinical trials of investigational AD-modifying therapies, and provide stratification mechanisms to more finely assess response to therapy. Power is sufficiently high that detecting efficacy in MCI cohorts should not be a limiting factor in AD therapeutics research. In contrast, we show that sample size estimates for clinical trials aimed at the preclinical stage of the disorder (HCs with evidence of AD pathology) are prohibitively large. Longer natural history studies are needed to inform design of trials aimed at the presymptomatic stage.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie showing the accumulation of amyloid plaques in carriers of autosomal dominant AD mutations over time

Using Pittsburgh compound B based PET imaging, the following movie shows the accumulation of amyloid plaques in carriers of autosomal dominant AD mutations. The movie starts 25 years before, and ends 10 years after, the expected onset of clinical symptoms.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease – spinal taps, brain scans, blood tests and the critical role of brain donation

By Professor Simon Lovestone
Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF

Suppose you have memory problems and go to your doctor - what happens next? At best, and the best is not always achieved, then an assessment of memory and other cognitive function is made and, in some cases, a referral is made to a memory clinic where there may be more memory tests and perhaps a brain scan. If the outcomes of these tests are not severe enough to warrant a clear-cut diagnosis then, usually, the cognitive tests are repeated after a year to see if they have got worse. This is unsatisfactory as the wait must seem interminable to patients and their relatives. For professionals too, not being able to make an early diagnosis is frustrating.
When treatments for Alzheimer's disease (AD) go beyond symptomatic treatment to therapies for the illness itself, this wait will be unacceptable since it is in this early phase, before dementia is established, that the drugs are most likely to be effective. This, then, is one of the most important drivers for research into 'biomarkers' of AD. A biomarker is a biological signal that can be detected for diagnosis, ideally very early and before doctors are currently able to diagnose the condition. Biomarkers are also useful as the basis of tests for measuring how a disease is progressing. This latter use of biomarkers would be especially useful in research to find new treatments for dementia. Currently clinical trials rely almost entirely on memory tests which are sometimes less reliable than we would like as measures of disease. A biomarker that reflected the disease progression in the brain would be immensely useful as a measure against which to judge new treatments.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Brain Amyloid Imaging — FDA Approval of Florbetapir F18 Injection

Florbetapir F18 Scan Usage: Information Summary

A negative florbetapir scan:
• indicates sparse to no neuritic plaques.
• is inconsistent with a neuropathological diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease at the time of image acquisition.
• reduces the likelihood that a patient's cognitive impairment is due to Alzheimer's disease.
A positive florbetapir scan:
• indicates moderate to frequent amyloid neuritic plaques.
• may be observed in older people with normal cognition and in patients with various neurologic conditions, including Alzheimer's disease.
Important florbetapir scan limitations:
• A positive scan does not establish a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive disorder.
• The scan has not been shown to be useful in predicting the development of dementia or any other neurologic condition, nor has usefulness been shown for monitoring responses to therapies.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Progranulin plasma levels as potential biomarker for the identification of GRN deletion carriers. A case with atypical onset as clinical amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment converted to Alzheimer's disease.

Progranulin (GRN) mutations are associated with different clinical phenotypes, including Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD), Corticobasal Degeneration and Alzheimer's disease (AD). In addition, the range of age at onset is very wide and patients presenting initial symptoms around eighty years have been described. Previous studies demonstrated that progranulin plasma levels determination may be a reliable method to identify GRN deletion carriers. We thus evaluated progranulin plasma levels in all patients followed at our Alzheimer's Centre whose plasma was available (n=176) and found four patients displaying low values. Three of them carried the CACT deletion in exon 7 and their clinical diagnosis was behavioral variant Frontotemporal Dementia. We also identified a patient carrying a previously reported CAGT deletion in exon 5. Here, we report on this case. The onset of symptoms was at 77 years and the initial diagnosis was of amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI), which converted to AD six months later. In the following years, the patient also developed behavioral disturbances, gait apraxia and parkinsonian symptoms. At present, she is 84 years old and is still followed-up periodically. This case confirms progranulin plasma levels as a reliable biomarker to identify GRN deletion carriers and discriminate between FTLD and other dementias which may mimic it. We thus encourage the inclusion of this non-invasive and easy test in clinical practice.
2009 Dec 15;287(1-2):291-3

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Disease tracking markers for Alzheimer's disease at the prodromal (MCI) stage

Older persons with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) feature neurobiological Alzheimer's Disease (AD) in 50% to 70% of the cases and develop dementia within the next 5 to 7 years. Current evidence suggests that biochemical, neuroimaging, electrophysiological, and neuropsychological markers can track the disease over time since the MCI stage (also called prodromal AD). The amount of evidence supporting their validity is of variable strength. The Brescia Group performed this interesting review categorizing evidence of validity into three classes: Class A, availability of multiple serial studies; Class B a single serial study or multiple cross sectional studies of patients with increasing disease severity from MCI to probable AD; and class C, multiple cross sectional studies of patients in the dementia stage, not including the MCI stage. Several Class A studies suggest that episodic memory and semantic fluency are the most reliable neuropsychological markers of progression. Hippocampal atrophy, ventricular volume and whole brain atrophy are structural MRI markers with class A evidence. Resting-state fMRI and connectivity, and diffusion MR markers in the medial temporal white matter (parahippocampus and posterior cingulum) and hippocampus are promising but require further validation. Change in amyloid load in MCI patients warrant further investigations, e.g. over longer period of time, to assess its value as marker of disease progression. Several spectral markers of resting state EEG rhythms that might reflect neurodegenerative processes in the prodromal stage of AD (EEG power density, functional coupling, spectral coherence, and synchronization) suffer from lack of appropriately designed studies. Although serial studies on late event-related potentials (ERPs) in healthy elders or MCI patients are inconclusive, others tracking disease progression and effects of cholinesterase inhibiting drugs in AD, and cross-sectional including MCI or predicting development of AD offer preliminary evidence of validity as a marker of disease progression from the MCI stage. CSF Markers, such as Aβ 1-42, t-tau and p-tau are valuable markers which support the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. However, these markers are not sensitive to disease progression and cannot be used to monitor the severity of Alzheimer's disease. For Isoprostane F2 some evidence exists that its increase correlates with the progression and the severity of AD.

Journal of Alzheimer's disease : JAD.(2011) :26 Suppl 3 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2011-0043

Monday, August 13, 2012

Biomarkers in AlzSWAN

The increasing age of populations in the developed world is associated with a dramatic rise in dementia-related disorders such as Alzheimer disease (AD). As current state-of-the-art diagnostics for these disorders are invasive (lumbar puncture), expensive (MRI and PET amyloid imaging) and time-consuming (comprehensive examination at specialist clinics), they have limited utility as high-throughput, or front-line, screening tools. Avalible online

Saturday, August 11, 2012

In Big Picture, Familial AD’s Biomarker Data Resemble LOAD

Researchers with eyes peeled toward prodromal Alzheimer’s disease probably see this diagram in their sleep—the one where the field’s five most validated markers trace their poignant path from normal cognition to fully developed AD. Two research groups proposed this theoretical model some years ago (see Perrin et al., 2009; Jack et al., 2010). But is it true? At least in its broad strokes, the answer seems to be yes, according to early data pouring in from biomarker studies in autosomal-dominant AD. By and large, brain amyloid, brain metabolism, atrophy, and functional connectivity data from independent analyses of theDominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) and the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative (API) jibe with each other and confirm the sequence of preclinical biomarker changes proposed for late-onset AD. This article highlights DIAN and API neuroimaging results reported 14-19 July 2012 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Vancouver, Canada.

Friday, August 3, 2012

CSF Markers: Goodbye, Research Use Only; Hello, Clinical

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. See also Part 2.
What a difference a year can make. At the 2011 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris, France, leading scientists in the CSF Alzheimer’s biomarker field met to tackle the vexing problem of measurement variability with the available commercial assays. Alas, back then a listener could be forgiven for thinking of the Tower of Babel, as groups presented their own stance and talked past each other as much as finding common ground.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

On the different clinical presentations of AD

AD may have different clinical presentations depending on the area where the neurodegeneration starts first. The more frequent region is the medial temporal lobe, affecting the hippocampus but there are variants starting in the frontal lobe (frontal AD) and parieto-occipital (posterior AD).
Analyses of cortical thickness patterns support the hypothesis that different clinical presentations of AD represent points in a phenotypic spectrum of neuroanatomical variation (Ridway). 
However, serum anti-Aβ IgG1 and IgG3 antibodies differ between distinct forms of AD. Its significance is discussed for possible implications as immune effectors in the specific pathophysiology of AD variants (Dorothée).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Amyloid vs FDG-PET in the differential diagnosis of AD and FTLD


To compare the diagnostic performance of PET with the amyloid ligand Pittsburgh compound B (PiB-PET) to fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG-PET) in discriminating between Alzheimer disease (AD) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD).


Patients meeting clinical criteria for AD (n = 62) and FTLD (n = 45) underwent PiB and FDG-PET. PiB scans were classified as positive or negative by 2 visual raters blinded to clinical diagnosis, and using a quantitative threshold derived from controls (n = 25). FDG scans were visually rated as consistent with AD or FTLD, and quantitatively classified based on the region of lowest metabolism relative to controls.


PiB visual reads had a higher sensitivity for AD (89.5% average between raters) than FDG visual reads (77.5%) with similar specificity (PiB 83%, FDG 84%). When scans were classified quantitatively, PiB had higher sensitivity (89% vs 73%) while FDG had higher specificity (83% vs 98%). On receiver operating characteristic analysis, areas under the curve for PiB (0.888) and FDG (0.910) were similar. Interrater agreement was higher for PiB (κ = 0.96) than FDG (κ = 0.72), as was agreement between visual and quantitative classification (PiB κ = 0.88-0.92; FDG κ = 0.64-0.68). In patients with known histopathology, overall classification accuracy (2 visual and 1 quantitative classification per patient) was 97% for PiB (n = 12 patients) and 87% for FDG (n = 10).


PiB and FDG showed similar accuracy in discriminating AD and FTLD. PiB was more sensitive when interpreted qualitatively or quantitatively. FDG was more specific, but only when scans were classified quantitatively. PiB slightly outperformed FDG in patients with known histopathology.

 Neurology. 2011 Dec 6;77(23):2034-42

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Age and diagnostic performance of Alzheimer disease CSF biomarkers


Core CSF changes in Alzheimer disease (AD) are decreased amyloid β(1-42), increased total tau, and increased phospho-tau, probably indicating amyloid plaque accumulation, axonal degeneration, and tangle pathology, respectively. These biomarkers identify AD already at the predementia stage, but their diagnostic performance might be affected by age-dependent increase of AD-type brain pathology in cognitively unaffected elderly.


We investigated effects of age on the diagnostic performance of CSF biomarkers in a uniquely large multicenter study population, including a cross-sectional cohort of 529 patients with AD dementia (median age 71, range 43-89 years) and 304 controls (67, 44-91 years), and a longitudinal cohort of 750 subjects without dementia with mild cognitive impairment (69, 43-89 years) followed for at least 2 years, or until dementia diagnosis.


The specificities for subjects without AD and the areas under the receiver operating characteristics curves decreased with age. However, the positive predictive value for a combination of biomarkers remained stable, while the negative predictive value decreased only slightly in old subjects, as an effect of the high AD prevalence in older ages.


Although the diagnostic accuracies for AD decreased with age, the predictive values for a combination of biomarkers remained essentially stable. The findings highlight biomarker variability across ages, but support the use of CSF biomarkers for AD even in older populations.

Revised Criteria for Mild Cognitive Impairment May Compromise the Diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease Dementia.


To evaluate the potential impact of revised criteria for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), developed by a work group sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association, on the diagnosis of very mild and mild Alzheimer disease (AD) dementia.


Retrospective review of ratings of functional impairment across diagnostic categories.


Alzheimer's Disease Centers and the National Alzheimer's Coordinating Center.


Individuals (N = 17 535) with normal cognition, MCI, or AD dementia.


The functional ratings of individuals with normal cognition, MCI, or AD dementia who were evaluated at Alzheimer's Disease Centers and submitted to the National Alzheimer's Coordinating Center were assessed in accordance with the definition of "functional independence" allowed by the revised criteria. Pairwise demographic differences between the 3 diagnostic groups were tested using t tests for continuous variables and χ(2) for categorical variables.


Almost all (99.8%) individuals currently diagnosed with very mild AD dementia and the large majority (92.7%) of those diagnosed with mild AD dementia could be reclassified as having MCI with the revised criteria, based on their level of impairment in the Clinical Dementia Rating domains for performance of instrumental activities of daily living in the community and at home. Large percentages of these individuals with AD dementia also meet the revised "functional independence" criterion for MCI as measured by the Functional Assessment Questionnaire.


The categorical distinction between MCI and milder stages of AD dementia has been compromised by the revised criteria. The resulting diagnostic overlap supports the premise that "MCI due to AD" represents the earliest symptomatic stage of AD.
Arch Neurol. 2012 Feb 6. [Epub ahead of print]

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wanted: Better Brain-Process Biomarkers for Drug Trials

Eight years ago, Peter Lansbury decided to become a drug developer. He was a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School with a background in chemistry, and had been doing well-regarded research on the origins of neurodegenerative diseases. Now he had an idea for a blockbuster treatment: a drug that would boost the brain’s ability to dispose of the harmful protein aggregates that seem to cause many of these diseases.
Lansbury and two investors founded a company, Link Medicine, and began screening libraries of chemical compounds for those that would increase autophagy, a natural process that clears away unwanted protein aggregates. Eventually they had a lead autophagy-boosting compound, LNK-754, that worked well in mouse models and appeared safe in human volunteers. In principle, LNK-754 could be useful in treating a number of illnesses including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s diseases. All that remained, it seemed, was for a large pharmaceutical company to buy the marketing rights and fund the large-scale clinical trials needed to prove LNK-754’s efficacy in humans.
But that hasn’t happened. “It used to be that if you had a drug whose mechanism makes sense, a drug that works in animals and is safe in people, you could immediately go and do a large clinical trial. But for drugs against neurodegenerative diseases, those days are gone,” says Lansbury.
The problem is that for these diseases, the standard measures needed in a conclusive clinical trial—such as cognitive test scores, for Alzheimer’s patients—are expected to show clear evidence of a treatment effect only very gradually, and only in a population of at least hundreds of patients, even for a drug that works. For a would-be disease-modifying drug, that typically means a trial of at least 18 months, costing on the order of $100 million. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are all too aware that potential neurodegenerative disease treatments have almost always failed in clinical trials, in recent years. “The big pharma companies have become very risk averse,” Lansbury says. “The big issue now is not really the lack of drug strategies, it’s the inability to assess those strategies in short, economical trials.”

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