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Diffusion Tensor Imaging Surpasses Cerebrospinal Fluid as Predictor of Cognitive Decline and Medial Temporal Lobe Atrophy in Subjective Cognitive Impairment and Mild Cognitive Impairment


Neuropathological correlates of Alzheimer's disease (AD) emerge years before dementia. Biomarkers preceding cognitive decline and reflecting the causative processes can potentially aid early intervention and diagnosis. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) indirectly reflects tissue microstructure. To answer whether DTI is an early biomarker for AD and to explore the relationship between DTI and the established biomarkers of medial temporal lobe atrophy and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Aβ42, T-tau, and P-tau, we longitudinally studied normal controls and patients with subjective (SCI) or mild (MCI) cognitive impairment. 21 controls and 64 SCI or MCI cases recruited from a university-hospital based memory clinic were re-examined after two to three years. FreeSurfer was used for longitudinal processing of morphometric data, and DTI derived fractional anisotropy, radial diffusivity, and mean diffusivity were analyzed in Tract-Based Spatial Statistics. Using regression models, we explored and compared the predictive powers of DTI and CSF biomarkers in regard to cognitive change and atrophy of the medial temporal lobe. Both DTI and CSF biomarkers significantly predicted cognitive decline and atrophy in the medial temporal lobe. In this population, however, DTI was a better predictor of dementia and AD-specific medial temporal lobe atrophy than the CSF biomarkers. The case for DTI as an early biomarker for AD is strengthened, but further studies are needed to confirm these results.