Background: The standard method of ascertaining Alzheimer's disease (AD) remains postmortem assessment of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary degeneration. Vascular pathology, Lewy bodies, TDP-43, and hippocampal sclerosis are frequent comorbidities. There is therefore a need for biomarkers that can assess these etiologies and provide a diagnosis in vivo.
Objective: We conducted a systematic review of published radiological-pathological correlation studies to determine the relationship between antemortem magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neuropathological findings in AD.
Methods: We explored PubMed in June-July 2015 using "Alzheimer's disease" and combinations of radiological and pathological terms. After exclusion following screening and full-text assessment of the 552 extracted manuscripts, three others were added from their reference list. In the end, we report results based on 27 articles.
Results: Independently of normal age-related brain atrophy, AD pathology is associated with whole-brain and hippocampal atrophy and ventricular expansion as observed on T1-weighted images. Moreover, cerebral amyloid angiopathy and cortical microinfarcts are also related to brain volume loss in AD. Hippocampal sclerosis and TDP-43 are associated with hippocampal and medial temporal lobe atrophy, respectively. Brain volume loss correlates more strongly with tangles than with any other pathological finding. White matter hyperintensities observed on proton density, T2-weighted and FLAIR images are strongly related to vascular pathologies, but are also associated with other histological changes such as gliosis or demyelination.
Conclusion: Cerebral atrophy and white matter changes in the living brain reflect underlying neuropathology and may be detectable using antemortem MRI. In vivo MRI may therefore be an avenue for AD pathological staging.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; antemortem diagnosis; dementia; magnetic resonance imaging; neuroimaging; neuropathology.