OBJECTIVES--To examine cerebral metabolism, cognitive performance, and brain volumes in healthy controls and two groups of patients with probable Alzheimer's disease, one group with severe abnormalities of white matter (DAT+) and the other group with none, or minimal abnormalities (DAT-). METHODS--Neuropsychological tests, CT, MRI, quantitative MRI, and PET studies were carried out to allow comparison between the DAT+ and DAT- groups and the healthy controls. RESULTS--Compared with the healthy controls, both demented groups had significantly reduced global and regional cerebral metabolism, significant brain atrophy, and significantly lower scores on neuropsychological testing. The DAT- patient group showed a pattern of parietal-temporal cerebral metabolic reductions and neuropsychological performance deficits typical of Alzheimer's disease. In addition, metabolism in the association neocortex (AD ratio) and measures of neuropsychological task performance were significantly correlated in the DAT- patient group. Comparison of DAT+ with DAT- patients showed a significantly higher ratio of parietal to whole brain glucose utilisation for the DAT+ group. Moreover, when comparing group z score differences from the healthy controls, the DAT+ group had, on average, smaller differences from controls in the frontal, parietal, and temporal regions than did the DAT- group. Discriminant analysis using metabolic ratios of the frontal, parietal, and temporal regions showed cerebral metabolic patterns to be significantly different among the DAT+, the DAT-, and the healthy controls. These differences were due primarily to relatively higher frontal, parietal, and temporal metabolic ratios in the DAT+ group which resulted in discriminant scores for the DAT+ group between the healthy controls and the DAT- group. Group mean scores on tests of neuropsychological performance were not significantly different between the DAT- and DAT+ patients. By contrast with the DAT- group, however, no significant correlations between the AD ratio and any neuropsychological task were seen in the DAT+ group. Multiple regression analysis showed significant between group differences in the relation between the AD ratio and neuropsychological scores on three tasks. The slopes of the relations between the AD ratio and memory scores (memory and freedom from distractability deviation quotient of the Wechsler adult intelligence scale (WMDQ)) also were significantly different for the two groups. CONCLUSIONS--Although multiple causes for abnormalities of white matter exist in patients with Alzheimer's disease, these data suggest that the presence of severe abnormalities of white matter indicate a second pathological process in the DAT+ patients. The DAT- patients showed the parietal-temporal metabolic deficits and correlations between association neocortical metabolism and neuropsychological task performance typical of patients with Alzheimer's disease. By contrast, the DAT+ group had a pattern of cerebral metabolism significantly different from healthy controls and DAT+ patients, as well as no significant correlations between metabolism in the association neocortex and neuropsychological performance. These differences probably reflect the superimposed pathology of the abnormalities of white matter which may exert their affect through disruption of long corticocortical pathways.
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