Importance: The positron emission tomography (PET) tracer [18F]flortaucipir allows in vivo quantification of paired helical filament tau, a core neuropathological feature of Alzheimer disease (AD), but its diagnostic utility is unclear.
Objective: To examine the discriminative accuracy of [18F]flortaucipir for AD vs non-AD neurodegenerative disorders.
Design, setting, and participants: In this cross-sectional study, 719 participants were recruited from 3 dementia centers in South Korea, Sweden, and the United States between June 2014 and November 2017 (160 cognitively normal controls, 126 patients with mild cognitive impairment [MCI], of whom 65.9% were amyloid-β [Aβ] positive [ie, MCI due to AD], 179 patients with AD dementia, and 254 patients with various non-AD neurodegenerative disorders).
Exposures: The index test was the [18F]flortaucipir PET standardized uptake value ratio (SUVR) in 5 predefined regions of interest (ROIs). Cut points for tau positivity were determined using the mean +2 SDs observed in controls and Youden Index for the contrast AD dementia vs controls.
Main outcomes and measures: The reference standard was the clinical diagnosis determined at the specialized memory centers. In the primary analysis, the discriminative accuracy (ie, sensitivity and specificity) of [18F]flortaucipir was examined for AD dementia vs all non-AD neurodegenerative disorders. In secondary analyses, the area under the curve (AUC) of [18F]flortaucipir SUVR was compared with 3 established magnetic resonance imaging measures (hippocampal volumes and AD signature and whole-brain cortical thickness), and sensitivity and specificity of [18F]flortaucipir in MCI due to AD vs non-AD neurodegenerative disorders were determined.
Results: Among 719 participants, the overall mean (SD) age was 68.8 (9.2) years and 48.4% were male. The proportions of patients who were amyloid-β positive were 26.3%, 65.9%, 100%, and 23.8% among cognitively normal controls, patients with MCI, patients with AD dementia, and patients with non-AD neurodegenerative disorders, respectively. [18F]flortaucipir uptake in the medial-basal and lateral temporal cortex showed 89.9% (95% CI, 84.6%-93.9%) sensitivity and 90.6% (95% CI, 86.3%-93.9%) specificity using the threshold based on controls (SUVR, 1.34), and 96.8% (95% CI, 92.0%-99.1%) sensitivity and 87.9% (95% CI, 81.9%-92.4%) specificity using the Youden Index-derived cutoff (SUVR, 1.27) for distinguishing AD dementia from all non-AD neurodegenerative disorders. The AUCs for all 5 [18F]flortaucipir ROIs were higher (AUC range, 0.92-0.95) compared with the 3 volumetric MRI measures (AUC range, 0.63-0.75; all ROIs P < .001). Diagnostic performance of the 5 [18F]flortaucipir ROIs were lower in MCI due to AD (AUC range, 0.75-0.84).
Conclusions and relevance: Among patients with established diagnoses at a memory disorder clinic, [18F]flortaucipir PET was able to discriminate AD from other neurodegenerative diseases. The accuracy and potential utility of this test in patient care require further research in clinically more representative populations.