Cortical thickness is a more reliable measure of atrophy than volume due to the low variability in the cytoarchitectural structure of the grey matter. However, this more desirable measure of disease-related alterations is not fully evaluated in early dementia. The study presented here is the first to report the spatial patterns of cortical thickness in the pre-clinical stages of Alzheimer's disease, namely mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Cortical thickness measurements for 34 healthy elderly, 62 MCI and 42 Alzheimer's disease subjects were made using fully automated magnetic resonance imaging-based analysis techniques in order to determine the pattern of cortical thinning as a function of disease progression. The thickness of the cortex decreased significantly when the healthy elderly brains were compared to those with MCI, mainly in the medial temporal lobe region and in some regions of the frontal and the parietal cortices. With the progression of disease from MCI to Alzheimer's disease, a general thinning of the entire cortex with significant extension into the lateral temporal lobe was found. In all cases, the results were more pronounced in the left hemisphere. In conclusion, we have shown that there is a specific pattern in the thinning of the cortical ribbon which is in agreement with the previous histological reports. These novel findings support the notion of increased isocortical involvement with the progression of disease.