1.BackgroundSynaptic loss and neurite dystrophy are early events in Alzheimers Disease (AD). We aimed to characterise early synaptic microstructural changes in vivo.
MethodsMRI neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) were used to image cortical microstructure in both sporadic, late onset, amyloid PET positive AD patients and healthy controls (total n = 28). We derived NODDI measures of grey matter extracellular free water (FISO), neurite density (NDI) and orientation dispersion (ODI), which provides an index of neurite branching and orientation, as well as more conventional DTI measures of fractional anisotropy (FA), mean/axial/radial diffusivity (MD, AD, RD, respectively). We also performed [11C]UCB-J PET, which provides a specific measure of the density of pre-synaptic vesicular protein SV2A. Both sets of measures were compared to regional brain volumes.
ResultsThe AD patients showed expected relative decreases in regional brain volumes (range, -6 to - 23%) and regional [11C]UCB-J densities (range, -2 to -25%). Differences between AD and controls were greatest in the hippocampus. NODDI microstructural measures showed greater FISO (range, +26 to +44%) in AD, with little difference in NDI (range, -1 to +7%) and mild focal changes in ODI (range, -4 to +3%). Regionally greater FISO and lower [11C]UCB-J binding were correlated across grey matter in patients (most strongly in the caudate, r2 = 0.37, p = 0.001). FISO and DTI RD were strongly positively associated, particularly in the hippocampus (r2 = 0.98, p < 7.4 x 10-9). After 12-18 months we found a 5% increase in FISO in the temporal lobe, but little change across all ROIs in NDI and ODI. An exploratory analysis showed higher parietal lobe FISO was associated with lower language scores in people with AD.
ConclusionsWe interpreted the increased extracellular free water as a possible consequence of glial activation. The dynamic range of disease-associated differences and the feasibility of measuring FISO on commercially available imaging systems makes it a potential surrogate for pathology related to synapse loss that could be used to support early-stage evaluations of novel therapeutics for AD.