Evaluation of Tau Imaging in Staging Alzheimer Disease and Revealing Interactions Between β-Amyloid and Tauopathy

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Abstract

Importance

In vivo tau imaging may become a diagnostic marker for Alzheimer disease (AD) and provides insights into the pathophysiology of AD.

Objective

To evaluate the usefulness of [18F]-AV-1451 positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to stage AD and assess the associations among β-amyloid (Aβ), tau, and volume loss.

Design, Setting, and Participants

An imaging study conducted at Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. A total of 59 participants who were cognitively normal (CN) (Clinical Dementia Rating [CDR] score, 0) or had AD dementia (CDR score, >0) were included.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Standardized uptake value ratio (SUVR) of [18F]-AV-1451 in the hippocampus and a priori–defined AD cortical signature regions, cerebrospinal fluid Aβ42, hippocampal volume, and AD signature cortical thickness.

Results

Of the 59 participants, 38 (64%) were male; mean (SD) age was 74 (6) years. The [18F]-AV-1451 SUVR in the hippocampus and AD cortical signature regions distinguished AD from CN participants (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve range [95% CI], 0.89 [0.73-1.00] to 0.98 [0.92-1.00]). An [18F]-AV-1451 SUVR cutoff value of 1.19 (sensitivity, 100%; specificity, 86%) from AD cortical signature regions best separated cerebrospinal fluid Aβ42-positive (Aβ+) AD from cerebrospinal fluid Aβ42-negative (Aβ−) CN participants. This same cutoff also divided Aβ+ CN participants into low vs high tau groups. Moreover, the presence of Aβ+ was associated with an elevated [18F]-AV-1451 SUVR in AD cortical signature regions (Aβ+ participants: mean [SD], 1.3 [0.3]; Aβ− participants: 1.1 [0.1]; F = 4.3, P = .04) but not in the hippocampus. The presence of Aβ+ alone was not related to hippocampal volume or AD signature cortical thickness. An elevated [18F]-AV-1451 SUVR was associated with volumetric loss in both the hippocampus and AD cortical signature regions. The observed [18F]-AV-1451 SUVR volumetric association was modified by Aβ status in the hippocampus but not in AD cortical signature regions. An inverse association between hippocampal [18F]-AV-1451 SUVR and volume was seen in Aβ+ participants (R2 = 0.55; P < .001) but not Aβ− (R2 = 0; P = .97) participants.

Conclusions and Relevance

Use of [18F]-AV-1451 has a potential for staging of the preclinical and clinical phases of AD. β-Amyloid interacts with hippocampal and cortical tauopathy to affect neurodegeneration. In the absence of Aβ, hippocampal tau deposition may be insufficient for the neurodegenerative process that leads to AD.

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