BACKGROUND: Accumulation of amyloid beta (Aβ) may occur during healthy aging and is a risk factor for Alzheimer Disease (AD). While individual Aβ-accumulation can be measured non-invasively using Pittsburgh Compund-B positron emission tomography (PiB-PET), Fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) sequence, capable of indicating heterogeneous age-related brain pathologies associated with tissue-edema. In the current study cognitively normal elderly subjects were investigated for regional correlation of PiB- and FLAIR intensity.
METHODS: Fourteen healthy elderly subjects without known history of cognitive impairment received 11C-PiB-PET for estimation of regional Aβ-load. In addition, whole brain T1-MPRAGE and FLAIR-MRI sequences were acquired at high field strength of 7 Tesla (7T). Volume-normalized intensities of brain regions were assessed by applying an automated subcortical segmentation algorithm for spatial definition of brain structures. Statistical dependence between FLAIR- and PiB-PET intensities was tested using Spearman's rank correlation coefficient (rho), followed by Holm-Bonferroni correction for multiple testing.
RESULTS: Neuropsychological testing revealed normal cognitive performance levels in all participants. Mean regional PiB-PET and FLAIR intensities were normally distributed and independent. Significant correlation between volume-normalized PiB-PET signals and FLAIR intensities resulted for Hippocampus (right: rho = 0.86; left: rho = 0.84), Brainstem (rho = 0.85) and left Basal Ganglia vessel region (rho = 0.82).
CONCLUSIONS: Our finding of a significant relationship between PiB- and FLAIR intensity mainly observable in the Hippocampus and Brainstem, indicates regional Aβ associated tissue-edema in cognitively normal elderly subjects. Further studies including clinical populations are necessary to clarify the relevance of our findings for estimating individual risk for age-related neurodegenerative processes such as AD.