Longitudinal tau PET in ageing and Alzheimer's disease

Brain. 2018 May 1;141(5):1517-1528. doi: 10.1093/brain/awy059.


See Hansson and Mormino (doi:10.1093/brain/awy065) for a scientific commentary on this article.Our objective was to compare different whole-brain and region-specific measurements of within-person change on serial tau PET and evaluate its utility for clinical trials. We studied 126 individuals: 59 cognitively unimpaired with normal amyloid, 37 cognitively unimpaired with abnormal amyloid, and 30 cognitively impaired with an amnestic phenotype and abnormal amyloid. All had baseline amyloid PET and two tau PET, MRI, and clinical assessments. We compared the topography across all cortical regions of interest of tau PET accumulation rates and the rates of four different whole-brain or region-specific meta-regions of interest among the three clinical groups. We computed sample size estimates for change in tau PET, cortical volume, and memory/mental status indices for use as outcome measures in clinical trials. The cognitively unimpaired normal amyloid group had no observable tau accumulation throughout the brain. Tau accumulation rates in cognitively unimpaired abnormal amyloid were low [0.006 standardized uptake value ratio (SUVR), 0.5%, per year] but greater than rates in the cognitively unimpaired normal amyloid group in the basal and mid-temporal, retrosplenial, posterior cingulate, and entorhinal regions of interest. Thus, the earliest elevation in accumulation rates was widespread and not confined to the entorhinal cortex. Tau accumulation rates in the cognitively impaired abnormal amyloid group were 0.053 SUVR (3%) per year and greater than rates in cognitively unimpaired abnormal amyloid in all cortical areas except medial temporal. Rates of accumulation in the four meta-regions of interest differed but only slightly from one another. Among all tau PET meta-regions of interest, sample size estimates were smallest for a temporal lobe composite within cognitively unimpaired abnormal amyloid and for the late Alzheimer's disease meta-region of interest within cognitively impaired abnormal amyloid. The ordering of the sample size estimates by outcome measure was MRI < tau PET < cognitive measures. At a group-wise level, observable rates of short-term serial tau accumulation were only seen in the presence of abnormal amyloid. As disease progressed to clinically symptomatic stages (cognitively impaired abnormal amyloid), observable rates of tau accumulation were seen uniformly throughout the brain providing evidence that tau does not accumulate in one area at a time or in start-stop, stepwise sequence. The information captured by rate measures in different meta-regions of interest, even those with little topographic overlap, was similar. The implication is that rate measurements from simple meta-regions of interest, without the need for Braak-like staging, may be sufficient to capture progressive within-person accumulation of pathologic tau. Tau PET SUVR measures should be an efficient outcome measure in disease-modifying clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins