Plasma biomarkers for prognosis of cognitive decline in patients with mild cognitive impairment

Brain Commun. 2022 Jun 14;4(4):fcac155. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcac155. eCollection 2022.


Plasma-based biomarkers present a promising approach in the research and clinical practice of Alzheimer's disease as they are inexpensive, accessible and minimally invasive. In particular, prognostic biomarkers of cognitive decline may aid in planning and management of clinical care. Although recent studies have demonstrated the prognostic utility of plasma biomarkers of Alzheimer pathology or neurodegeneration, such as pTau-181 and NF-L, whether other plasma biomarkers can further improve prediction of cognitive decline is undetermined. We conducted an observational cohort study to determine the prognostic utility of plasma biomarkers in predicting progression to dementia for individuals presenting with mild cognitive impairment due to probable Alzheimer's disease. We used the Olink™ Proximity Extension Assay technology to measure the level of 460 circulating proteins in banked plasma samples of all participants. We used a discovery data set comprised 60 individuals with mild cognitive impairment (30 progressors and 30 stable) and a validation data set consisting of 21 stable and 21 progressors. We developed a machine learning model to distinguish progressors from stable and used 44 proteins with significantly different plasma levels in progressors versus stable along with age, sex, education and baseline cognition as candidate features. A model with age, education, APOE genotype, baseline cognition, plasma pTau-181 and 12 plasma Olink protein biomarker levels was able to distinguish progressors from stable with 86.7% accuracy (mean area under the curve = 0.88). In the validation data set, the model accuracy was 78.6%. The Olink proteins selected by the model included those associated with vascular injury and neuroinflammation (e.g. IL-8, IL-17A, TIMP-4, MMP7). In addition, to compare these prognostic biomarkers to those that are altered in Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia relative to controls, we analyzed samples from 20 individuals with Alzheimer, 30 with non-Alzheimer dementias and 34 with normal cognition. The proteins NF-L and PTP-1B were significantly higher in both Alzheimer and non-Alzheimer dementias compared with cognitively normal individuals. Interestingly, the prognostic markers of decline at the mild cognitive impairment stage did not overlap with those that differed between dementia and control cases. In summary, our findings suggest that plasma biomarkers of inflammation and vascular injury are associated with cognitive decline. Developing a plasma biomarker profile could aid in prognostic deliberations and identify individuals at higher risk of dementia in clinical practice.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; mild cognitive impairment; plasma biomarkers; prognostic biomarkers.