The pathophysiological process of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is thought to begin many years before the diagnosis of AD dementia. This long “preclinical” phase of AD would provide a critical opportunity for therapeutic intervention; however, we need to further elucidate the link between the pathological cascade of AD and the emergence of clinical symptoms. The National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association convened an international workgroup to review the biomarker, epidemiological, and neuropsychological evidence, and to develop recommendations to determine the factors which best predict the risk of progression from “normal” cognition to mild cognitive impairment and AD dementia. We propose a conceptual framework and operational research criteria, based on the prevailing scientific evidence to date, to test and refine these models with longitudinal clinical research studies. These recommendations are solely intended for research purposes and do not have any clinical implications at this time. It is hoped that these recommendations will provide a common rubric to advance the study of preclinical AD, and ultimately, aid the field in moving toward earlier intervention at a stage of AD when some disease-modifying therapies may be most efficacious.
Currently available evidence strongly supports the position that the initiating event in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is related to abnormal processing of β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide, ultimately leading to formation of Aβ plaques in the brain. This process occurs while individuals are still cognitively normal. Biomarkers of brain β-amyloidosis are reductions in CSF Aβ 42 and increased amyloid PET tracer retention. After a lag period, which varies from patient to patient, neuronal dysfunction and neurodegeneration become the dominant pathological processes. Biomarkers of neuronal injury and neurodegeneration are increased CSF tau and structural MRI measures of cerebral atrophy. Neurodegeneration is accompanied by synaptic dysfunction, which is indicated by decreased fluorodeoxyglucose uptake on PET. We propose a model that relates disease stage to AD biomarkers in which Aβ biomarkers become abnormal first, before neurodegenerative biomarkers and cognitive symptoms, and neurodegenerative biomarkers become abnormal later, and correlate with clinical symptom severity.
In 2010, the authors published a hypothetical model of the major biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The model was received with interest because we described the temporal evolution of AD biomarkers in relation to each other and to the onset and progression of clinical symptoms. In the interim, evidence has accumulated that supports the major assumptions of this model. Evidence has also appeared that challenges some of the assumptions underlying our original model. Recent evidence has allowed us to modify our original model. Refinements include indexing subjects by time rather than clinical symptom severity; incorporating inter-subject variability in cognitive response to the progression of AD pathophysiology; modifications of the specific temporal ordering of some biomarkers; and, recognition that the two major proteinopathies underlying AD biomarker changes, Aβ and tau, may be initiated independently in late onset AD where we hypothesize that an incident Aβopathy can accelerate an antecedent tauopathy.
The order and magnitude of pathologic processes in Alzheimer’s disease are not well understood, partly because the disease develops over many years. Autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease has a predictable age at onset and provides an opportunity to determine the sequence and magnitude of pathologic changes that culminate in symptomatic disease.
In this prospective, longitudinal study, we analyzed data from 128 participants who underwent baseline clinical and cognitive assessments, brain imaging, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood tests. We used the participant’s age at baseline assessment and the parent’s age at the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease to calculate the estimated years from expected symptom onset (age of the participant minus parent’s age at symptom onset). We conducted cross-sectional analyses of baseline data in relation to estimated years from expected symptom onset in order to determine the relative order and magnitude of pathophysiological changes.
Concentrations of amyloid-beta (Aβ)42 in the CSF appeared to decline 25 years before expected symptom onset. Aβ deposition, as measured by positron-emission tomography with the use of Pittsburgh compound B, was detected 15 years before expected symptom onset. Increased concentrations of tau protein in the CSF and an increase in brain atrophy were detected 15 years before expected symptom onset. Cerebral hypometabolism and impaired episodic memory were observed 10 years before expected symptom onset. Global cognitive impairment, as measured by the Mini–Mental State Examination and the Clinical Dementia Rating scale, was detected 5 years before expected symptom onset, and patients met diagnostic criteria for dementia at an average of 3 years after expected symptom onset.
We found that autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease was associated with a series of pathophysiological changes over decades in CSF biochemical markers of Alzheimer’s disease, brain amyloid deposition, and brain metabolism as well as progressive cognitive impairment. Our results require confirmation with the use of longitudinal data and may not apply to patients with sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. (Funded by the National Institute on Aging and others; DIAN ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00869817.)
Objective: Develop a cerebrospinal fluid biomarker signature for mild Alzheimer's disease (AD) in Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) subjects. Methods: Amyloid-␤ 1 to 42 peptide (A␤ 1-42 ), total tau (t-tau), and tau phosphorylated at the threonine 181 were measured in (1) cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples obtained during baseline evaluation of 100 mild AD, 196 mild cognitive impairment, and 114 elderly cognitively normal (NC) subjects in ADNI; and (2) independent 56 autopsy-confirmed AD cases and 52 age-matched elderly NCs using a multiplex immunoassay. Detection of an AD CSF profile for t-tau and A␤ 1-42 in ADNI subjects was achieved using receiver operating characteristic cut points and logistic regression models derived from the autopsyconfirmed CSF data. Results: CSF A␤ 1-42 was the most sensitive biomarker for AD in the autopsy cohort of CSF samples: receiver operating characteristic area under the curve of 0.913 and sensitivity for AD detection of 96.4%. In the ADNI cohort, a logistic regression model for A␤ 1-42 , t-tau, and APO4 allele count provided the best assessment delineation of mild AD. An AD-like baseline CSF profile for t-tau/A␤ 1-42 was detected in 33 of 37 ADNI mild cognitive impairment subjects who converted to probable AD during the first year of the study. Interpretation: The CSF biomarker signature of AD defined by A␤ 1-42 and t-tau in the autopsy-confirmed AD cohort and confirmed in the cohort followed in ADNI for 12 months detects mild AD in a large, multisite, prospective clinical investigation, and this signature appears to predict conversion from mild cognitive impairment to AD. Neurol 2009;65:403-413 If the clinical diagnosis of probable AD is imprecise with accuracy rates of approximately 90% or lower using established consensus criteria for probable AD, but definite AD requires autopsy confirmation, it is not surprising that diagnostic accuracy is lower at early and presymptomatic stages of AD.  It is believed that the development of full-blown AD takes place over an approximately 20-year prodromal period, but this is difficult to determine in the absence of biomarkers that reliably signal the onset of nascent disease before the emergence of measurable cognitive impairments. Because intervention with disease-modifying therapies for AD is likely to be most efficacious before significant neurodegeneration has occurred, there is an urgent need for biomarker-based tests that enable a more accurate and early diagnosis of AD.  Moreover, such tests could also improve monitoring AD progression, evaluation of new AD therapies, and enrichment of AD cohorts with specific subsets of AD subjects in clinical trials.
During the past decade, a conceptual shift occurred in the field of Alzheimer's disease (AD) considering the disease as a continuum. Thanks to evolving biomarker research and substantial discoveries, it is now possible to identify the disease even at the preclinical stage before the occurrence of the first clinical symptoms. This preclinical stage of AD has become a major research focus as the field postulates that early intervention may offer the best chance of therapeutic success. To date, very little evidence is established on this "silent" stage of the disease. A clarification is needed about the definitions and lexicon, the limits, the natural history, the markers of progression, and the ethical consequence of detecting the disease at this asymptomatic stage. This article is aimed at addressing all the different issues by providing for each of them an updated review of the literature and evidence, with practical recommendations.
Solanezumab, a humanized monoclonal antibody that binds amyloid, failed to improve cognition or functional ability. (Funded by Eli Lilly; EXPEDITION 1 and 2 ClinicalTrials.gov numbers, NCT00905372 and NCT00904683.).
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