, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 127-143
Date: 03 May 2007

Use of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Early Identification of Alzheimer's Disease

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Abstract

A growing body of evidence suggests that a preclinical phase of Alzheimer's disease (AD) exists several years or more prior to the overt manifestation of clinical symptoms and is characterized by subtle neuropsychological and brain changes. Identification of individuals prior to the development of significant clinical symptoms is imperative in order to have the greatest treatment impact by maintaining cognitive abilities and preserving quality of life. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) offers considerable promise as a non-invasive tool for detecting early functional brain changes in asymptomatic adults. In fact, evidence to date indicates that functional brain decline precedes structural decline in preclinical samples. Therefore, fMRI may offer the unique ability to capture the dynamic state of change in the degenerating brain. This review examines the clinical utility of blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) fMRI in those at risk for AD as well as in early AD. We provide an overview of fMRI findings in at-risk groups by virtue of genetic susceptibility or mild cognitive decline followed by an appraisal of the methodological issues concerning the diagnostic usefulness of fMRI in early AD. We conclude with a discussion of future directions and propose that BOLD-fMRI in combination with cerebral blood flow or diffusion techniques will provide a more complete accounting of the neurovascular changes that occur in preclinical AD and thus improve our ability to reliably detect early brain changes prior to disease onset.