The accumulation of β-amyloid plaques is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (AD), and recently published data suggest that increased brain iron burden may reflect pathologies that synergistically contribute to the development of cognitive dysfunction. While preclinical disease stages are considered most promising for therapeutic intervention, the link between emerging AD-pathology and earliest clinical symptoms remains largely unclear. In the current study we therefore investigated local correlations between iron and β-amyloid plaques, and their possible association with cognitive performance in healthy older adults.
116 older adults (mean age 75±7.4 years) received neuropsychological testing to calculate a composite cognitive score of performance in episodic memory, executive functioning, attention, language and communication. All participants were scanned on a combined PET-MRI instrument and were administered T1-sequences for anatomical mapping, quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) for assessing iron, and 18F-Flutemetamol-PET for estimating β-amyloid plaque load. Biological parametric mapping (BPM) was used to generate masks indicating voxels with significant (p<0.05) correlation between susceptibility and 18F-Flutemetamol-SUVR.
We found a bilateral pattern of clusters characterized by a statistical relationship between magnetic susceptibility and 18F-Flutemetamol-SUVR, indicating local correlations between iron and β-amyloid plaque deposition. For two bilateral clusters, located in the frontal and temporal cortex, significant relationships (p<0.05) between local β-amyloid and the composite cognitive performance score could be observed. No relationship between whole-cortex β-amyloid plaque load and cognitive performance was observable.
Our data suggest that the local correlation of β-amyloid plaque load and iron deposition may provide relevant information regarding cognitive performance of healthy older adults. Further studies are needed to clarify pathological correlates of the local interaction of β-amyloid, iron and other causes of altered magnetic susceptibility.