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PET, Stroke Risk May Warn Early Of Dementia

April 4, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Cardiac Imaging, Neuroradiology
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PET brain imaging combined with stroke risk assessment can raise an early warning of cognitive decline before dementia symptoms show up, according to a small study by researchers at UCLA.

The researchers tested 75 people who were healthy or had mild cognitive impairment. The subjects’ average age was 63. They underwent neuropsychological and physical testing and lifestyle assessments to generate a Framingham Stroke Risk Profile. And they were injected with a UCLA-patented chemical marker called FDDNP, which binds to deposits of amyloid beta plaques and neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain. FDDNP shows up in PET scans, so it let researchers evaluate the extent of plaque and tangle accumulation.

Both an elevated stroke risk and the plaques and tangles have been shown to be associated with dementia. And indeed, the researchers found that both a higher stroke risk score and greater amounts of FDDNP binding were associated with lower performance on cognitive tests. The team found little evidence of interaction between the two, indicating that stroke risk and FDDNP binding contributed separately to the lower cognitive performance.

Gary Small, MD, the study’s senior author, summed up the results:

Our findings demonstrate that the effects of elevated vascular risk, along with evidence of plaques and tangles, is apparent early on, even before vascular damage has occurred or a diagnosis of dementia has been confirmed.

Dr. Small directs the UCLA Longevity Center and is a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. He was quoted in a UCLA news release. The study results were published in the March issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

At the moment, we don’t have a treatment for amyloid beta plaques or neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain. But we can manage some stroke risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The researchers found a few of the risk factors more predictive of cognitive decline than others—including age, systolic blood pressure, and blood pressure–lowering medications.

Individuals have at least some control over two out of three.

Related seminar: Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Imaging


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