We report the first application of a novel diffusion-based MRI method, called diffusional kurtosis imaging (DKI), to investigate changes in brain tissue microstructure in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD and in cognitively intact controls. The subject groups were characterized and compared in terms of DKI-derived metrics for selected brain regions using analysis of covariance with a Tukey multiple comparison correction. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) and binary logistic regression analyses were used to assess the utility of regional diffusion measures, alone and in combination, to discriminate each pair of subject groups. ROC analyses identified mean and radial kurtoses in the anterior corona radiata as the best individual discriminators of MCI from controls, with the measures having an area under the ROC curve (AUC) of 0.80 and 0.82, respectively. The next best discriminators of MCI from controls were diffusivity and kurtosis (both mean and radial) in the prefrontal white matter (WM), with each measure having an AUC between 0.77 and 0.79. Finally, the axial diffusivity in the hippocampus was the best overall discriminator of MCI from AD, having an AUC of 0.90. These preliminary results suggest that non-Gaussian diffusion MRI may be beneficial in the assessment of microstructural tissue damage at the early stage of MCI and may be useful in developing biomarkers for the clinical staging of AD.
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