Background: Default mode network (DMN) dysfunction is well established in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and documented in both preclinical stages and at-risk subjects, thus representing a potential disease target. Multi-sessions of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) seem capable of modulating DMN dynamics and memory in healthy individuals and AD patients; however, the potential of this approach in at-risk subjects has yet to be tested.
Objective: This study will test the effect of rTMS on the DMN in healthy older individuals carrying the strongest genetic risk factor for AD, the Apolipoprotein E (APOE) ɛ4 allele.
Methods: We will recruit 64 older participants without cognitive deficits, 32 APOE ɛ4 allele carriers and 32 non-carriers as a reference group. Participants will undergo four rTMS sessions of active (high frequency) or sham DMN stimulation. Multimodal imaging exam (including structural, resting-state, and task functional MRI, and diffusion tensor imaging), TMS with concurrent electroencephalography (TMS-EEG), and cognitive assessment will be performed at baseline and after the stimulation sessions.
Results: We will assess changes in DMN connectivity with resting-state functional MRI and TMS-EEG, as well as changes in memory performance in APOE ɛ4 carriers. We will also investigate the mechanisms underlying DMN modulation through the assessment of correlations with measures of neuronal activity, excitability, and structural connectivity with multimodal imaging.
Conclusion: The results of this study will inform on the physiological and cognitive outcomes of DMN stimulation in subjects at risk for AD and on the possible mechanisms. These results may outline the design of future non-pharmacological preventive interventions for AD.
Keywords: APOE ɛ4 allele; Alzheimer’s disease; at-risk healthy subjects; default mode network; functional connectivity; repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation.