Brain Communications, 4(3), 2021
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Abstract Cortical accumulation of amyloid beta is one of the first events of Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology, and has been suggested to follow a consistent spatiotemporal ordering, starting in the posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus and medio-orbitofrontal cortex. These regions overlap with those of the default mode network, a brain network also involved in memory functions. Aberrant default mode network functional connectivity and higher network sparsity have been reported in prodromal and clinical Alzheimer’s disease. We investigated the association between amyloid burden and default mode network connectivity in the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease and its association with longitudinal memory decline. We included 173 participants, in which amyloid burden was assessed both in CSF by the amyloid beta 42/40 ratio, capturing the soluble part of amyloid pathology, and in dynamic PET scans calculating the non-displaceable binding potential in early-stage regions. The default mode network was identified with resting-state functional MRI. Then, we calculated functional connectivity in the default mode network, derived from independent component analysis, and eigenvector centrality, a graph measure recursively defining important nodes on the base of their connection with other important nodes. Memory was tested at baseline, 2- and 4-year follow-up. We demonstrated that higher amyloid burden as measured by both CSF amyloid beta 42/40 ratio and non-displaceable binding potential in the posterior cingulate cortex was associated with lower functional connectivity in the default mode network. The association between amyloid burden (CSF and non-displaceable binding potential in the posterior cingulate cortex) and aberrant default mode network connectivity was confirmed at the voxel level with both functional connectivity and eigenvector centrality measures, and it was driven by voxel clusters localized in the precuneus, cingulate, angular and left middle temporal gyri. Moreover, we demonstrated that functional connectivity in the default mode network predicts longitudinal memory decline synergistically with regional amyloid burden, as measured by non-displaceable binding potential in the posterior cingulate cortex. Taken together, these results suggest that early amyloid beta deposition is associated with aberrant default mode network connectivity in cognitively healthy individuals and that default mode network connectivity markers can be used to identify subjects at risk of memory decline.