Alzheimer disease: new concepts on its neurobiology and the clinical role imaging will play

Radiology. 2012 May;263(2):344-61. doi: 10.1148/radiol.12110433.


Alzheimer disease (AD) is one of, if not the most, feared diseases associated with aging. The prevalence of AD increases exponentially with age after 60 years. Increasing life expectancy coupled with the absence of any approved disease-modifying therapies at present position AD as a dominant public health problem. Major advances have occurred in the development of disease biomarkers for AD in the past 2 decades. At present, the most well-developed AD biomarkers are the cerebrospinal fluid analytes amyloid-β 42 and tau and the brain imaging measures amyloid positron emission tomography (PET), fluorodeoxyglucose PET, and magnetic resonance imaging. CSF and imaging biomarkers are incorporated into revised diagnostic guidelines for AD, which have recently been updated for the first time since their original formulation in 1984. Results of recent studies suggest the possibility of an ordered evolution of AD biomarker abnormalities that can be used to stage the typical 20-30-year course of the disease. When compared with biomarkers in other areas of medicine, however, the absence of standardized quantitative metrics for AD imaging biomarkers constitutes a major deficiency. Failure to move toward a standardized system of quantitative metrics has substantially limited potential diagnostic usefulness of imaging in AD. This presents an important opportunity that, if widely embraced, could greatly expand the application of imaging to improve clinical diagnosis and the quality and efficiency of clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease / epidemiology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Biomarkers / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurobiology
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Prevalence
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Biomarkers
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18