Association of premorbid intellectual function with cerebral metabolism in Alzheimer's disease: implications for the cognitive reserve hypothesis

Am J Psychiatry. 1997 Feb;154(2):165-72. doi: 10.1176/ajp.154.2.165.


Objective: Clinical heterogeneity in Alzheimer's disease has been widely observed. One factor that may influence the expression of dementia in Alzheimer's disease is premorbid intellectual ability. It has been hypothesized that premorbid ability, as measured by educational experience, reflects a cognitive reserve that can affect the clinical expression of Alzheimer's disease. The authors investigated the relation between estimates of premorbid intellectual function and cerebral glucose metabolism in patients with Alzheimer's disease to test the effect of differing levels of premorbid ability on neurophysiological dysfunction.

Method: In a resting state with eyes closed and ears occluded, 46 patients with Alzheimer's disease were evaluated with positron emission tomography and [18F]-2-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose to determine cerebral metabolism. Premorbid intellectual ability was assessed by a demographics-based IQ estimate and performance on a measure of word-reading ability.

Results: After the authors controlled for demographic characteristics and dementia severity, both estimates of premorbid intellectual ability were inversely correlated with cerebral metabolism in the prefrontal, pre-motor, and left superior parietal association regions. In addition, the performance-based estimate (i.e., reading ability) was inversely correlated with metabolism in the anterior cingulate, paracentral, right orbitofrontal, and left thalamic regions, after demographic and clinical variables were controlled for.

Conclusions: The results suggest that higher levels of premorbid ability are associated with greater pathophysiological effects of Alzheimer's disease among patients of similar dementia severity levels. These findings provide support for a cognitive reserve that can alter the clinical expression of dementia and influence the neurophysiological heterogeneity observed in Alzheimer's disease.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Deoxyglucose / analogs & derivatives
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Functional Laterality
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Intelligence*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / metabolism
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Regression Analysis
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Deoxyglucose
  • Glucose