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Relation between medial temporal atrophy and functional brain activity during memory processing in Alzheimer’s disease: a combined MRI and SPECT study

Abstract

Objective: To investigate the relation between atrophy of the hippocampal region and brain functional patterns during episodic memory processing in Alzheimer’s disease.

Patients and methods: Whole brain structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) measures of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) were obtained during a verbal recognition memory task in nine subjects with mild Alzheimer’s disease and 10 elderly healthy controls. Using the statistical parametric mapping approach, voxel based comparisons were made on the MRI data to identify clusters of significantly reduced grey matter concentrations in the hippocampal region in the Alzheimer patients relative to the controls. The mean grey matter density in the voxel cluster of greatest hippocampal atrophy was extracted for each Alzheimer subject. This measure was used to investigate, on a voxel by voxel basis, the presence of significant correlations between the degree of hippocampal atrophy and the rCBF SPECT measures obtained during the memory task.

Results: Direct correlations were detected between the hippocampal grey matter density and rCBF values in voxel clusters located bilaterally in the temporal neocortex, in the left medial temporal region, and in the left posterior cingulate cortex during the memory task in the Alzheimer’s disease group (p < 0.001). Conversely, measures of hippocampal atrophy were negatively correlated with rCBF values in voxel clusters located in the frontal lobes, involving the right and left inferior frontal gyri and the insula (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Hippocampal atrophic changes in Alzheimer’s disease are associated with reduced functional activity in limbic and associative temporal regions during episodic memory processing, but with increased activity in frontal areas, possibly on a compensatory basis.

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • SPECT
  • regional cerebral blood flow
  • CAMCOG, CAMDEX section for assessment of cognitive function
  • CAMDEX, Cambridge mental disorders of the elderly examination
  • PET, positron emission tomography
  • rCBF, regional cerebral blood flow
  • SPECT, single photon emission computed tomography
  • SPM, statistical parametric mapping
  • VBM, voxel based morphometry

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