MRI Exams May Help Predict Which Adults Develop Alzheimer's

April 7, 2011

Using MRI may help researchers predict which adults are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published online and in the June issue of Radiology.

Using MRI may help researchers predict which adults are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published online and in the June issue of Radiology.

Analyzing MRI exams of healthy patients as well as those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and early Alzheimer’s, researchers examined specific biomarkers of the disease process. Researchers measured the thickness of the cerebral cortex - which is the outermost later that plays a key role in memory, attention, thought, and language - and observed the pattern of thinning to determine risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

“MRI is very sensitive to brain atrophy,” said Linda K. McEvoy, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. “There’s a pattern of cortical thinning associated with AD that indicates the patient is more likely to progress to AD.”

The study, which used exams from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, included a baseline MRI exam and a second MRI performed a year later on 203 healthy adults, 317 patients with MCI, and 164 patients with late-onset AD. Researchers calculated that the patients with MCI had a one-year risk of developing AD ranging from 3 percent to 40 percent.

Combining the results of the baseline MRI and the one performed a year later, researchers were able to calculate a more informed rate of change. Patients with mild cognitive impairment had a risk of disease progression between 3 percent and 69 percent, based on the MRI exams, researchers said.

“MRI provides substantially more informative, patient-specific risk estimates,” McEvoy said in a statement.