Amyloid and tau PET-positive cognitively unimpaired individuals are at high risk for future cognitive decline.

14 September, 2023

A major unanswered question in the dementia field is whether cognitively unimpaired individuals who harbor both Alzheimer’s disease neuropathological hallmarks (that is, amyloid-β plaques and tau neurofibrillary tangles) can preserve their cognition over time or are destined to decline. In this large multicenter amyloid and tau positron emission tomography (PET) study (n = 1,325), we examined the risk for future progression to mild cognitive impairment and the rate of cognitive decline over time among cognitively unimpaired individuals who were amyloid PET-positive (A+) and tau PET-positive (T+) in the medial temporal lobe (A+TMTL+) and/or in the temporal neocortex (A+TNEO-T+) and compared them with A+T and AT groups. Cox proportional-hazards models showed a substantially increased risk for progression to mild cognitive impairment in the A+TNEO-T+ (hazard ratio (HR) = 19.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 10.9-33.7), A+TMTL+ (HR = 14.6, 95% CI = 8.1-26.4) and A+T (HR = 2.4, 95% CI = 1.4-4.3) groups versus the AT (reference) group. Both A+TMTL+ (HR = 6.0, 95% CI = 3.4-10.6) and A+TNEO-T+ (HR = 7.9, 95% CI = 4.7-13.5) groups also showed faster clinical progression to mild cognitive impairment than the A+T group. Linear mixed-effect models indicated that the A+TNEO-T+ (β = -0.056 ± 0.005, T = -11.55, P < 0.001), A+TMTL+ (β = -0.024 ± 0.005, T = -4.72, P < 0.001) and A+T (β = -0.008 ± 0.002, T = -3.46, P < 0.001) groups showed significantly faster longitudinal global cognitive decline compared to the AT (reference) group (all P < 0.001). Both A+TNEO-T+ (P < 0.001) and A+TMTL+ (P = 0.002) groups also progressed faster than the A+T group. In summary, evidence of advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathological changes provided by a combination of abnormal amyloid and tau PET examinations is strongly associated with short-term (that is, 3-5 years) cognitive decline in cognitively unimpaired individuals and is therefore of high clinical relevance.