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Neurology. 2010 Jun 15;74(24):1969-76. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181e3966e. Epub 2010 May 12.

Longitudinal fMRI in elderly reveals loss of hippocampal activation with clinical decline.

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  • 1Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Previous cross-sectional fMRI studies in subjects with prodromal Alzheimer disease (AD) have reported variable results, ranging from hypoactivation, similar to patients with AD, to paradoxically increased activation or hyperactivation compared to cognitively normal older individuals. We have hypothesized that subjects in early phases of prodromal AD may experience a period of hippocampal hyperactivation, followed by loss of hippocampal activation as the disease progresses.


We studied 51 older individuals without dementia (Clinical Dementia Rating [CDR] at baseline of 0, n = 21, and 0.5, n = 30) with longitudinal clinical and neuropsychological assessments, as well as fMRI during a face-name associative memory paradigm. Whole brain and region-of-interest analyses were applied to the longitudinal fMRI data.


Subjects classified as CDR 0 at baseline showed no difference in fMRI activity over 2 years, whereas those who were CDR 0.5 at baseline demonstrated a decrease in fMRI activity in the right hippocampus (p < 0.001). Dividing the subjects on the basis of their clinical and neuropsychological change over the 2 years, we found that subjects with more rapid decline demonstrated both the highest hippocampal activation at baseline, and the greatest loss of hippocampal activation. These findings remained significant after accounting for age, hippocampal volume, and APOE epsilon4 carrier status.


Clinical decline is associated with loss of hippocampal activation in older subjects. Longitudinal fMRI provides a reliable indicator of brain activation over time, and may prove useful in identifying functional brain changes associated with cognitive decline on the trajectory toward clinical Alzheimer disease.

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