New Brain Scan May Predict Alzheimer's
Study Shows Diffusion Tensor Imaging May Help Identify Early Alzheimer's Disease
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 6, 2010 -- A new imaging technique that measures the random motion of
water within the brain may prove useful for detecting early signs of
The technique, known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) or diffusion MRI, is
used to assess changes in the white matter regions of the brain.
But it is increasingly clear that DTI can also be used to identify very
small structural changes in the gray matter of the brain, which is critical for
learning and memory, researcher Giovanni A. Carlesimo, MD, PhD, of Italy's Tor
Vergata University tells WebMD.
In a study published in the Jan. 19 issue of Neurology, Carlesimo and
colleagues found that DTI scanning predicted declines in memory performance
with more accuracy than traditional MRI.
"This type of brain scan appears to be a better way to measure how healthy
the brain is in people who are experiencing memory loss," Carlesimo says in a
news release. "This might help doctors when trying to differentiate between
normal aging and diseases like Alzheimer's."
MRI, DTI, and Alzheimer's
The researchers recruited 76 healthy people between the ages of 20 and 80
for their study.
They performed DTI scanning of the hippocampus, which is the region of the
brain that controls memory. They also performed conventional MRI scanning to
assess the overall volume of the hippocampus and the study participants
completed a battery of tests designed to measure memory function.
The researchers found that DTI scanning was better able to predict memory
performance than measurement of hippocampus volume, especially in study
participants over the age of 50.
But Carlesimo says more study is needed to prove that DTI scanning actually
predicts Alzheimer's disease in people who have not yet shown clear evidence of
"There is wide agreement among researchers and clinicians that in order to
be effective, [drug] treatments should start as soon as possible in patients
with Alzheimer's disease," he says. "This, in turn, makes it critical to
identify people at high risk for the disease as early and as accurately as