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J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;59(2):643-654. doi: 10.3233/JAD-161274.

Neural Dynamics of Multiple Object Processing in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer's Disease: Future Early Diagnostic Biomarkers?

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IRCCS Centro San Giovanni di Dio Fatebenefratelli, Brescia, Italy.
Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy.


The aim of this study was to investigate the behavioral and electrophysiological dynamics of multiple object processing (MOP) in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD), and to test whether its neural signatures may represent reliable diagnostic biomarkers. Behavioral performance and event-related potentials [N2pc and contralateral delay activity (CDA)] were measured in AD, MCI, and healthy controls during a MOP task, which consisted in enumerating a variable number of targets presented among distractors. AD patients showed an overall decline in accuracy for both small and large target quantities, whereas in MCI patients, only enumeration of large quantities was impaired. N2pc, a neural marker of attentive individuation, was spared in both AD and MCI patients. In contrast, CDA, which indexes visual short term memory abilities, was altered in both groups of patients, with a non-linear pattern of amplitude modulation along the continuum of the disease: a reduction in AD and an increase in MCI. These results indicate that AD pathology shows a progressive decline in MOP, which is associated to the decay of visual short-term memory mechanisms. Crucially, CDA may be considered as a useful neural signature both to distinguish between healthy and pathological aging and to characterize the different stages along the AD continuum, possibly becoming a reliable candidate for an early diagnostic biomarker of AD pathology.


Alzheimer’s disease; attention; biomarkers; electroencephalography; event-related potentials; mild cognitive impairment; short-term memory

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