Imaging brain’s white matter is predictive “biomarker” for Alzheimer’s disease progression

Measuring changes in functional connectivity of the brain’s white matter, which is made up of nerve fibers and their protective myelin coating, can predict Alzheimer’s disease progression, researchers in the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science have found.

Previous studies have correlated variations in blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signals detected by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with reduced neural activity in gray matter, which contains most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies.

Yurui Gao

Noting that degenerative changes are more prominent in white matter in early-stage disease, Yurui Gao, research assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and colleagues applied the fMRI technique to study functional connectivity in white matter in patients with different stages of cognitive impairments and in healthy controls.

Reporting in the journal PLOS ONE, they found significant decreases in functional connectivity in white matter that correlated with neuropsychological measurements of cognitive and memory impairments. White matter functional connectivity thus may be a novel neuroimaging biomarker for assessing Alzheimer’s disease progression, they concluded.

The research team includes VUIIS members Adam Anderson, professor of biomedical engineering; Zhaohua Ding, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and research professor of electrical engineering; Muwei Li, Anirban Sengupta and Zhongliang Zu in the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences.

This research is supported by National Institutes of Health grants to John Gore, Hertha Ramsey Cress Professor of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science Director and biomedical engineering professor, and a Vanderbilt University Discovery Grant to Gao and Baxter Rogers, research associate professor of biomedical engineering.

National Institutes of Health grants NS093669 and NS113832; University Discovery Grant 600670.

Contact:  Brenda Ellis, 615 343-6314