A new MRI technique based on whole-brain tractography, which maps the neural pathways that connect different areas of the brain, may predict progress of certain dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia. This is the finding of a study published in a recent issue of the journal Neuron.
Researchers from the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, used the technique to follow the spread of the disease along the neural pathways, as predicted by models based on 14 healthy brains. The researchers found that the disease progress closely matched actual MRI images of brain degeneration in 18 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 18 with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
These and similar findings appear to support mounting evidence that dementias spread through the brain in much the same way as do prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, although Alzheimer’s and FTD are not infectious diseases.
The results of this study do need to be replicated, said senior author Michael Weiner, MD, director of the SFVAMC Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases. “But, [the results] suggest that, by using this approach, we can predict the location and course of future brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s, FTD and other degenerative brain diseases, based on just one MRI taken at the outset of the disease,” said, adding the ability to do this would be very useful in helping families plan as the dementia progresses, as well as for planning treatments.