Background: In the earliest clinical stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD) when symptoms are mild, clinical diagnosis can be difficult. AD pathology most likely precedes symptoms. Biomarkers can serve as early diagnostic indicators or as markers of preclinical pathologic change. Candidate biomarkers derived from structural and functional neuroimaging and those measured in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and plasma show the greatest promise. Unbiased exploratory approaches, eg, proteomics or cortical thickness analysis, could yield novel biomarkers. The objective of this article was to review recent progress in selected imaging and neurochemical biomarkers for early diagnosis, classification, progression, and prediction of AD.
Methods: We performed a survey of recent research, focusing on core biomarker candidates in AD.
Results: A number of in vivo neurochemistry and neuroimaging techniques, which can reliably assess aspects of physiology, pathology, chemistry, and neuroanatomy, hold promise as biomarkers. These neurobiologic measures appear to relate closely to pathophysiologic, neuropathologic, and clinical data, such as hyperphosphorylation of tau, amyloid beta (Abeta) metabolism, lipid peroxidation, pattern and rate of atrophy, loss of neuronal integrity, functional and cognitive decline, as well as risk of future decline. Current advances in the neuroimaging of mediotemporal, neocortical, and subcortical areas of the brain of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD subjects are presented. CSF levels of Abeta42, tau, and hyperphosphorylated tau protein (p-tau) can distinguish subjects with MCI who are likely to progress to AD. They also show preclinical alterations that predict later development of early AD symptoms. Studies on plasma Abeta are not entirely consistent, but recent findings suggest that decreased plasma Abeta42 relative to Abeta40 might increase the risk of AD. Increased production of Abeta in aging is suggested by elevation of BACE1 protein and enzyme activity in the brain and CSF of subjects with MCI. CSF tau and p-tau are increased in MCI as well and show predictive value. Other biomarkers might indicate components of a cascade initiated by Abeta, such as oxidative stress or inflammation. These merit further study in MCI and earlier.
Conclusions: A number of neuroimaging candidate markers are promising, such as hippocampus and entorhinal cortex volumes, basal forebrain nuclei, cortical thickness, deformation-based and voxel-based morphometry, structural and effective connectivity by using diffusion tensor imaging, tractography, and functional magnetic resonance imaging. CSF Abeta42, BACE1, total tau, and p-tau are substantially altered in MCI and clinical AD. Other interesting novel marker candidates derived from blood are being currently proposed (phase I). Biomarker discovery through proteomic approaches requires further research. Large-scale international controlled multicenter trials (such as the U.S., European, Australian, and Japanese Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative and the German Dementia Network) are engaged in phase III development of the core feasible imaging and CSF biomarker candidates in AD. Biomarkers are in the process of implementation as primary outcome variables into regulatory guideline documents regarding study design and approval for compounds claiming disease modification.