MRI detection of tissue pathology beyond atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease: Introducing T2-VBM


Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) of T1-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) images has been widely used to identify regional atrophy in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In theory, however, T2-weighting should be more sensitive to tissue pathology, though until recently, volumetric T2-weighted images were unavailable. We tested the hypothesis that T2-VBM would be more sensitive to grey matter pathology in AD than T1-VBM using the recently-developed SPACE acquisition, which provides true-3D, high-resolution T2-weighted images. This was contrasted to conventional T1-weighted MPRAGE images acquired at the same session and resolution. All of the atrophic regions identified with T1-VBM were also identified with T2-VBM. Additional abnormalities were, however, identified with T2-VBM and the distribution of these bore a striking resemblance to the distribution of amyloid plaque deposition in AD, suggesting that T2-VBM detects signal changes due to histopathology over and above those attributable to atrophy. In keeping with this hypothesis, the relevant statistical tests demonstrated that the difference in sensitivity was caused by an apparent change in T2-weighted signal intensity that was not present in T1-weighted images. These results suggest that T2-VBM has the potential to advance VBM beyond atrophy detection to more expansive applications in tissue pathology mapping.

Research highlights

► T2-VBM could be more sensitive to grey matter pathology in AD than T1-VBM. ► All of the atrophic regions identified with T1-VBM, were identified with T2-VBM. ► T2-VBM found additional lesions, possibly consistent with the distribution of amyloid. ► T2-VBM not only identifies atrophy but also likely other pathology.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Voxel-based morphometry; T2-weighting; Amyloid; Grey matter pathology

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