Verbal memory formation across PET-based Braak stages of tau accumulation in Alzheimer's disease

Brain Commun. 2023 May 18;5(3):fcad146. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcad146. eCollection 2023.


A classical early sign of typical Alzheimer's disease is memory decline, which has been linked to the aggregation of tau in the medial temporal lobe. Verbal delayed free recall and recognition tests have consistently probed useful to detect early memory decline, and there is substantial debate on how performance, particularly in recognition tests, is differentially affected through health and disease in older adults. Using in vivo PET-Braak staging, we investigated delayed recall and recognition memory dysfunction across the Alzheimer's disease spectrum. Our cross-sectional study included 144 cognitively unimpaired elderly, 39 amyloid-β+ individuals with mild cognitive impairment and 29 amyloid-β+ Alzheimer's disease patients from the Translational Biomarkers in Aging and Dementia cohort, who underwent [18F]MK6240 tau and [18F]AZD4694 amyloid PET imaging, structural MRI and memory assessments. We applied non-parametric comparisons, correlation analyses, regression models and voxel-wise analyses. In comparison with PET-Braak Stage 0, we found that reduced, but not clinically significant, delayed recall starts at PET-Braak Stage II (adjusted P < 0.0015), and that recognition (adjusted P = 0.011) displayed a significant decline starting at PET-Braak Stage IV. While performance in both delayed recall and recognition related to tau in nearly the same cortical areas, further analyses showed that delayed recall rendered stronger associations in areas of early tau accumulation, whereas recognition displayed stronger correlations in mostly posterior neocortical regions. Our results support the notion that delayed recall and recognition deficits are predominantly associated with tau load in allocortical and neocortical areas, respectively. Overall, delayed recall seems to be more dependent on the integrity of anterior medial temporal lobe structures, while recognition appears to be more affected by tau accumulation in cortices beyond medial temporal regions.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; PET-Braak staging; delayed recall; recognition memory; tau PET.