The Nun Study: risk factors for pathology and clinical-pathologic correlations

Curr Alzheimer Res. 2012 Jul;9(6):621-7. doi: 10.2174/156720512801322546.


The Nun Study was the first cohort study to enroll and follow a large, well-defined population that included demented and non-demented participants, all of whom agreed to donate their brains for research. The inclusion of systematic neuropathologic analysis in this study has resulted in a greater understanding of the role of Alzheimer and vascular pathology in the expression of memory deficits and dementia and has provided data showing that biomarkers for the pathology may be evident many decades earlier in adult life. Findings related to neuropathology in this study have included the following: (1) Although clinical outcomes were strongly correlated with Alzheimer neuropathology, about one-third of the participants fulfilling criteria for neuropathologic Alzheimer's disease (AD) were not demented at the time of death. (2) Brain infarcts by themselves had little effect on cognitive status, but played an important role in increasing the risk of dementia associated with Alzheimer pathology. (3) Hippocampal volume was strongly correlated with Braak neurofibrillary stage even in participants with normal cognitive function. (4) A linguistic characteristic of essays written in early adult life, idea density, had a strong association with not only clinical outcomes in late life, but the severity of Alzheimer neuropathology as well. (5) The effect of apolipoprotein E-e4 on dementia was mediated through Alzheimer, but not vascular pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Autopsy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Infarction / complications
  • Brain Infarction / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors