Background: Hippocampal atrophy is a well-known feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD), but sensitivity and specificity of hippocampal volumetry are limited. Neuropathological studies have shown that hippocampal subfields are differentially vulnerable to AD; hippocampal subfield volumetry may thus prove to be more accurate than global hippocampal volumetry to detect AD.
Methods: CA1, subiculum and other subfields were manually delineated from 40 healthy controls, 18 AD, 17 amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI), and 8 semantic dementia (SD) patients using a previously developed high resolution MRI procedure. Non-parametric group comparisons and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analyses were conducted. Complementary analyses were conducted to evaluate differences of hemispheric asymmetry and anterior-predominance between AD and SD patients and to distinguish aMCI patients with or without β-amyloid deposition as assessed by Florbetapir-TEP.
Results: Global hippocampi were atrophied in all three patient groups and volume decreases were maximal in the CA1 subfield (22% loss in aMCI, 27% in both AD and SD; all p < 0.001). In aMCI, CA1 volumetry was more accurate than global hippocampal measurement to distinguish patients from controls (areas under the ROC curve = 0.88 and 0.76, respectively; p = 0.05) and preliminary analyses suggest that it was independent from the presence of β-amyloid deposition. In patients with SD, whereas the degree of CA1 and subiculum atrophy was similar to that found in AD patients, hemispheric and anterior-posterior asymmetry were significantly more marked than in AD with greater involvement of the left and anterior hippocampal subfields.
Conclusions: The findings suggest that CA1 measurement is more sensitive than global hippocampal volumetry to detect structural changes at the pre-dementia stage, although the predominance of CA1 atrophy does not appear to be specific to AD pathophysiological processes.
Keywords: AD, Alzheimer's disease; ANOVA, Analysis of variance; AUC, Area Under the receiver operating characteristic Curve; Alzheimer's disease; Aβ, β-amyloid; CA1; HC, healthy controls; Hippocampal subfields; MRI, Magnetic resonance imaging; Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI); NFT, neurofibrillary tangles; PET, Positon Emission Tomography; ROC, receiver operating characteristic; SUVr, Standardized Uptake Value ratio; Semantic dementia; TIV, Total intracranial volume; aMCI, amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment.