Tau and atrophy: domain-specific relationships with cognition

Alzheimers Res Ther. 2019 Jul 27;11(1):65. doi: 10.1186/s13195-019-0518-8.


Background: Late-onset Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by primary memory impairment, which then progresses towards severe deficits across cognitive domains. Here, we report how performance in cognitive domains relates to patterns of tau deposition and cortical thickness.

Methods: We analyzed data from 131 amyloid-β positive participants (55 cognitively normal, 46 mild cognitive impairment, 30 AD) of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative who underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), flortaucipir (FTP) positron emission tomography, and neuropsychological testing. Surface-based vertex-wise and region-of-interest analyses were conducted between FTP and cognitive test scores, and between cortical thickness and cognitive test scores.

Results: FTP and thickness were differentially related to cognitive performance in several domains. FTP-cognition associations were more widespread than thickness-cognition associations. Further, FTP-cognition patterns reflected cortical systems that underlie different aspects of cognition.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that AD-related decline in domain-specific cognitive performance reflects underlying progression of tau and atrophy into associated brain circuits. They also suggest that tau-PET may have better sensitivity to this decline than MRI-derived measures of cortical thickness.

Keywords: Atrophy; Cognition; Magnetic resonance imaging; Neuropsychology; Positron emission tomography; Surface-based analysis; Tau; Thickness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Carbolines
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / metabolism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Carbolines
  • MAPT protein, human
  • tau Proteins
  • 7-(6-fluoropyridin-3-yl)-5H-pyrido(4,3-b)indole