The use of PET in Alzheimer disease

Nat Rev Neurol. 2010 Feb;6(2):78-87. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2009.217.


In Alzheimer disease (AD), which is the most common cause of dementia, the underlying disease pathology most probably precedes the onset of cognitive symptoms by many years. Thus, efforts are underway to find early diagnostic markers as well as disease-modifying treatments for this disorder. PET enables various brain systems to be monitored in living individuals. In patients with AD, PET can be used to investigate changes in cerebral glucose metabolism, various neurotransmitter systems, neuroinflammation, and the protein aggregates that are characteristic of the disease, notably the amyloid deposits. These investigations are helping to further our understanding of the complex pathophysiological mechanisms that underlie AD, as well as aiding the early and differential diagnosis of the disease in the clinic. In the future, PET studies will also be useful for identifying new therapeutic targets and monitoring treatment outcomes. Amyloid imaging could be useful as early diagnostic marker of AD and for selecting patients for anti-amyloid-beta therapy, while cerebral glucose metabolism could be a suitable PET marker for monitoring disease progression. For the near future, multitracer PET studies are unlikely to be used routinely in the clinic for AD, being both burdensome and expensive; however, such studies are very informative in a research context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*