MRI technique differentiates Alzheimer's from dementia

A new MRI technique can help differentiate Alzheimer's disease from other forms of dementia, according to a study published recently in the journal Neurology.

For the study, researchers recruited 185 patients with diagnosed neurodegenerative disease consistent with dementia or Alzheimer's. A subset of 32 patients had their diagnosis confirmed by autopsy or by determining that they had a genetic mutation associated with the disease.

The researchers used MRI to predict the ratio of proteins tau and beta-amyloid, biomarkers for the disease in the cerebrospinal fluid. The MRI prediction method had 75 percent accuracy in identifying the correct diagnosis in those cases with pathology-confirmed diagnoses or those with biomarker levels obtained from lumbar punctures.

"Analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid gives us reliable diagnostic information, but this is not something patients look forward to and is also expensive," study author Corey McMillan, Ph.D., of the Perelman School of Medicine and Frontotemporal Degeneration Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an announcement. "Using this new MRI method is less expensive and definitely less invasive."

McMillan said the MRI technique also could be used in clinical trials where it is important to monitor biomarkers over time to determine a treatment's efficacy, and would be less invasive than repeated lumbar punctures.

"Developing a new method for diagnosis is important because potential treatments target the underlying abnormal proteins, so we need to know which disease to treat," McMillan said. "This could be used as a screening method and any borderline cases could follow up with the lumbar puncture or PET scan."

To learn more:
- see the study abstract
- read the announcement