Brain Communications, 2021
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Abstract Neuroimaging signatures based on composite scores of cortical thickness and hippocampal volume predict progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. However, little is known about the ability of these signatures among cognitively normal adults to predict progression to mild cognitive impairment. Toward that end, a signature sensitive to microstructural changes that may predate macrostructural atrophy should be useful. We hypothesized that: 1) a validated MRI-derived Alzheimer’s disease signature based on cortical thickness and hippocampal volume in cognitively normal middle-aged adults would predict progression to mild cognitive impairment; and 2) a novel gray matter mean diffusivity signature would be a better predictor than the thickness/volume signature. This cohort study was part of the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging. Concurrent analyses compared cognitively normal and mild cognitive impairment groups at each of three study waves (ns = 246–367). Predictive analyses included 169 cognitively normal men at baseline (age = 56.1, range = 51–60). Our previously published thickness/volume signature derived from independent data, a novel mean diffusivity signature using the same regions and weights as the thickness/volume signature, age, and an Alzheimer’s disease polygenic risk score were used to predict incident mild cognitive impairment an average of 12 years after baseline (follow-up age = 67.2, range = 61–71). Additional analyses adjusted for predicted brain age difference scores (chronological age minus predicted brain age) to determine if signatures were Alzheimer-related and not simply aging-related. In concurrent analyses, individuals with mild cognitive impairment had higher (worse) mean diffusivity signature scores than cognitively normal participants, but thickness/volume signature scores did not differ between groups. In predictive analyses, age and polygenic risk score yielded an area under the curve of 0.74 (sensitivity = 80.00%; specificity = 65.10%). Prediction was significantly improved with addition of the mean diffusivity signature (area under the curve = 0.83; sensitivity = 85.00%; specificity = 77.85%; P=0.007), but not with addition of the thickness/volume signature. A model including both signatures did not improve prediction over a model with only the mean diffusivity signature. Results held up after adjusting for predicted brain age difference scores. The novel mean diffusivity signature was limited by being yoked to the thickness/volume signature weightings. An independently-derived mean diffusivity signature may thus provide even stronger prediction. The young age of the sample at baseline is particularly notable. Given that the brain signatures were examined when participants were only in their 50 s, our results suggest a promising step toward improving very early identification of Alzheimer’s disease risk and the potential value of mean diffusivity and/or multimodal brain signatures.