Oh brother, where art tau? Amyloid, neurodegeneration, and cognitive decline without elevated tau

This article was originally published here

Neuroimage Clin. 2021 Jun 6;31:102717. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102717. Online ahead of print.

ABSTRACT

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can be an early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology, other pathologic entities [e.g., cerebrovascular disease, Lewy body disease, LATE (limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy)], or mixed pathologies, with concomitant AD- and non-AD pathology being particularly common, albeit difficult to identify, in living MCI patients. The National Institute on Aging and Alzheimer’s Association (NIA-AA) A/T/(N) [β-Amyloid/Tau/(Neurodegeneration)] AD research framework, which classifies research participants according to three binary biomarkers [β-amyloid (A+/A-), tau (T+/T-), and neurodegeneration (N+/N-)], provides an indirect means of identifying such cases. Individuals with A+T-(N+) MCI are thought to have both AD pathologic change, given the presence of β-amyloid, and non-AD pathophysiology, given neurodegeneration without tau, because in typical AD it is tau accumulation that is most tightly linked to neuronal injury and cognitive decline. Thus, in A+T-(N+) MCI (hereafter referred to as “mismatch MCI” for the tau-neurodegeneration mismatch), non-AD pathology is hypothesized to drive neurodegeneration and symptoms, because β-amyloid, in the absence of tau, likely reflects a preclinical stage of AD. We compared a group of individuals with mismatch MCI to groups with A+T+(N+) MCI (or “prodromal AD”) and A-T-(N+) MCI (or “neurodegeneration-only MCI”) on cross-sectional and longitudinal cognition and neuroimaging characteristics. β-amyloid and tau status were determined by CSF assays, while neurodegeneration status was based on hippocampal volume on MRI. Overall, mismatch MCI was less “AD-like” than prodromal AD and generally, with some exceptions, more closely resembled the neurodegeneration-only group. At baseline, mismatch MCI had less episodic memory loss compared to prodromal AD. Longitudinally, mismatch MCI declined more slowly than prodromal AD across all included cognitive domains, while mismatch MCI and neurodegeneration-only MCI declined at comparable rates. Prodromal AD had smaller baseline posterior hippocampal volume than mismatch MCI, and whole brain analyses demonstrated cortical thinning that was widespread in prodromal AD but largely restricted to the medial temporal lobes (MTLs) for the mismatch and neurodegeneration-only MCI groups. Longitudinally, mismatch MCI had slower rates of volume loss than prodromal AD throughout the MTLs. Differences in cross-sectional and longitudinal cognitive and neuroimaging measures between mismatch MCI and prodromal AD may reflect disparate underlying pathologic processes, with the mismatch group potentially being driven by non-AD pathologies on a background of largely preclinical AD. These findings suggest that β-amyloid status alone in MCI may not reveal the underlying driver of symptoms with important implications for enrollment in clinical trials and prognosis.

PMID:34119903 | DOI:10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102717