The use of positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease (AD) appears to be closer to becoming a clinical tool, based on results from two articles published online in the Archives of Neurology.
In one study, Adam S. Fleisher, M.D., from Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, and colleagues, evaluated PET imaging using the tracer florbetapir F 18. The study population included 68 individuals with probable Alzheimer’s disease, 60 individuals with mild cognitive impairment, and 82 healthy individuals who served as controls. PET scanning was used to monitor activity of the agent being studied. Dr. Fleisher and colleagues found differences in the brain uptake of florbetapir F 18, between the three groups, and in the detection of amyloid plaque; the differences may be large enough to help distinguish between the conditions, and between impaired versus unimpaired brains.
In another study, David A. Wolk, M.D., from the Penn Memory Center in Philadelphia, and colleagues, evaluated use of a tracer called fluorine 18-labeled flutemetamol for imaging the brain. The study involved conducting PET scans on seven patients who were given the tracer. All had previously undergone a biopsy for normal pressure hydrocephalus, a progressive condition that includes dementia and can be difficult to distinguish from Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found correspondence between readings of the PET scans and evidence of amyloid lesions the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease (provided by microscopic evaluation of the biopsied tissue).
The greatest use of such scans may ultimately be to help rule out Alzheimer’s disease, instead of rule it in. That is, in the physician’s office, having a negative scan (meaning no detectable amyloid buildup in the brain) may be helpful to clinicians in ruling out Alzheimer’s disease as the cause of the memory and thinking changes a person is experiencing. However, a positive scan (showing that there is amyloid buildup in the brain) has limited utility at this point.
Having amyloid buildup does not mean for certain that one has Alzheimer’s dementia, especially in a patient who may not have symptoms. About 30 percent of elderly people have plaque, but not Alzheimer’s dementia. It is believed that having a positive amyloid scan may reflect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease (prior to the dementia phase) and increase one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia in the future.
1. D. A. Wolk, I. D. Grachev, C. Buckley, H. Kazi, M. S. Grady, J. Q. Trojanowski, R. H. Hamilton, P. Sherwin, R. McLain, S. E. Arnold. Association Between In Vivo Fluorine 18-Labeled Flutemetamol Amyloid Positron Emission Tomography Imaging and In Vivo Cerebral Cortical Histopathology. Archives of Neurology, 2011
2. A. S. Fleisher, K. Chen, X. Liu, A. Roontiva, P. Thiyyagura, N. Ayutyanont, A. D. Joshi, C. M. Clark, M. A. Mintun, M. J. Pontecorvo, P. M. Doraiswamy, K. A. Johnson, D. M. Skovronsky, E. M. Reiman. Using Positron Emission Tomography and Florbetapir F 18 to Image Cortical Amyloid in Patients With Mild Cognitive Impairment or Dementia Due to Alzheimer Disease. Archives of Neurology, 2011.
Director, Memory Disorders Clinic
Associate Medical Core Director, Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study
University of California San Diego
This post originally appeared in Alzheimer’s Insights, an ADCS Blog.