Atrophy of the Posterior Subiculum Is Associated with Memory Impairment, Tau- and Aβ Pathology in Non-demented Individuals

Front Aging Neurosci. 2017 Sep 20;9:306. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2017.00306. eCollection 2017.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is associated with atrophy of the cornu ammonis (CA) 1 and the subiculum subfield of the hippocampus (HC), and with deficits in episodic memory and spatial orientation. These deficits are mainly associated with the functionality of the posterior HC. We therefore hypothesized that key AD pathologies, i.e., β-amyloid and tau pathology would be particularly associated with the volume of the posterior subiculum in non-demented individuals. In our study we included 302 cognitively normal elderly participants (CN), 183 patients with subjective cognitive decline (SCD) and 171 patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI), all of whom underwent 3T magnetic resonance images (MRI). The subicular subfield was segmented using Freesurfer 5.3 and divided into 10 volumetric segments moving from the most posterior (segment 1) to the most anterior part along the axis of the hippocampal head and body (segment 10). Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Aβ42 and phosphorylated tau (P-tau) were quantified using ELISA and were used as biomarkers for β-amyloid and tau pathology, respectively. In the total sample, tau-pathology and Aβ-pathology and (measured by elevated P-tau and low Aβ42 levels in CSF) and mild memory dysfunction were mostly associated with the volume changes of the posterior subiculum. Both SCD and MCI patients with elevated P-tau or low Aβ42 levels displayed predominantly posterior subicular atrophy in comparisons to control subjects with normal CSF biomarker levels. Finally, there was no main effect of Aβ42 or P-tau when comparing SCD with abnormal P-tau or Aβ42 with SCD with normal levels of these CSF-biomarkers. However, in the left subiculum there was a significant interaction revealing atrophy in the left posterior but not the anterior subiculum in participants with low Aβ42 levels. The same pattern was observed on the contralateral side in participants with elevated P-tau levels. In conclusion, AD pathologies and mild memory dysfunction are mainly associated with atrophy of the posterior parts of the subicular subfields of the HC in non-demented individuals. In light of these findings we suggest that segmentation of the HC subfields may benefit from considering the volume of the different anterior-posterior subsections of each subfield.

Keywords: beta amyloid; hippocampus subfield; mild cognitive impairment; preclinical AD; subjective cognitive decline.