PET Imaging of Tau Pathology and Relationship to Amyloid, Longitudinal MRI, and Cognitive Change in Down Syndrome: Results from the Down Syndrome Biomarker Initiative (DSBI)

J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;60(2):439-450. doi: 10.3233/JAD-170390.


Background: Adults with Down syndrome (DS) represent an enriched population for the development of Alzheimer's disease (AD), which could aid the study of therapeutic interventions, and in turn, could benefit from discoveries made in other AD populations.

Objectives: 1) Understand the relationship between tau pathology and age, amyloid deposition, neurodegeneration (MRI and FDG PET), and cognitive and functional performance; 2) detect and differentiate AD-specific changes from DS-specific brain changes in longitudinal MRI.

Methods: Twelve non-demented adults, ages 30 to 60, with DS were enrolled in the Down Syndrome Biomarker Initiative (DSBI), a 3-year, observational, cohort study to demonstrate the feasibility of conducting AD intervention/prevention trials in adults with DS. We collected imaging data with 18F-AV-1451 tau PET, AV-45 amyloid PET, FDG PET, and volumetric MRI, as well as cognitive and functional measures and additional laboratory measures.

Results: All amyloid negative subjects imaged were tau-negative. Among the amyloid positive subjects, three had tau in regions associated with Braak stage VI, two at stage V, and one at stage II. Amyloid and tau burden correlated with age. The MRI analysis produced two distinct volumetric patterns. The first differentiated DS from normal (NL) and AD, did not correlate with age or amyloid, and was longitudinally stable. The second pattern reflected AD-like atrophy and differentiated NL from AD. Tau PET and MRI atrophy correlated with several cognitive and functional measures.

Conclusions: Tau accumulation is associated with amyloid positivity and age, as well as with progressive neurodegeneration measurable using FDG and MRI. Tau correlates with cognitive decline, as do AD-specific hypometabolism and atrophy.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Down syndrome; Tau PET; biomarkers; dementia; volumetric MRI.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amyloid / metabolism*
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum / metabolism
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Down Syndrome* / complications
  • Down Syndrome* / diagnostic imaging
  • Down Syndrome* / metabolism
  • Down Syndrome* / pathology
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Amyloid
  • Apolipoproteins E
  • tau Proteins
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18