Gray matter T1-w/T2-w ratios are higher in Alzheimer's disease

Hum Brain Mapp. 2019 Sep;40(13):3900-3909. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24638. Epub 2019 Jun 3.


Myelin determines the conduction of neuronal signals along axonal connections in networks of the brain. Loss of myelin integrity in neuronal circuits might result in cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Recently, the ratio of T1-weighted by T2-weighted MRI has been used as a proxy for myelin content in gray matter of the cortex. With this approach, we investigated whether AD dementia patients show lower cortical myelin content (i.e., a lower T1-w/T2-w ratio value). We selected structural T1-w and T2-w MR images of 293 AD patients and 172 participants with normal cognition (NC). T1-w/T2-w ratios were computed for the whole brain and within 90 automated anatomical labeling atlas regions using SPM12, compared between groups and correlated with the neuronal injury marker tau in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). In contrast to our hypothesis, AD patients showed higher whole brain T1-w/T2-w ratios than NC, and regionally in 31 anatomical areas (p < .0005; d = 0.21 to 0.48), predominantly in the inferior parietal lobule, angular gyrus, anterior cingulate, and precuneus. Regional higher T1-w/T2-w values were associated with higher CSF tau concentrations (p < .0005; r = .16 to .22) and worse MMSE scores (p < .0005; r = -.16 to -.21). These higher T1-w/T2-w values in AD seem to contradict previous pathological findings of demyelination and disconnectivity in AD. Future research should further investigate the biological processes reflected by increases in T1-w/T2-w values.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; T1-w/T2-w ratio; gray matter; myelin content; structural connectivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged