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Temporal lobe magnetic resonance imaging can differentiate Alzheimer's disease from normal ageing, depression, vascular dementia and other causes of cognitive impairment

  • J. T. O'BRIEN (a1), P. DESMOND (a1), D. AMES (a1), I. SCHWEITZER (a1), E. CHIU (a1) and B. TRESS (a1)...
    • Published online: 01 November 1997

Background. Previous work suggests that temporal lobe magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can distinguish those with dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT) from healthy age-matched controls. However, its specificity with regard to conditions such as vascular dementia, depression and other disorders associated with cognitive impairment has not been determined.

Methods. We studied 222 subjects using T1 weighted MRI with 5·1 mm coronal slices throughout the temporal lobe. Subjects included: healthy controls (N=40); DSM-III-R major depression (N=61); NINCDS/ADRDA DAT (N=77) and OTHER (N=44, comprising subjects with vascular dementia, Huntington's disease, schizophrenia, alcohol related cognitive impairment and a group of ‘memory complainers’). Hippocampus, amygdala, entorhinal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and cerebral cortex were rated visually on a 0–3 scale by two experienced neuroradiologists blind to clinical diagnosis.

Results. Ratings of temporal lobe atrophy provided good separation between those with AD and all other groups. For example, anterior hippocampal atrophy had a sensitivity of 83% for detecting DAT, a specificity of 80% for controls, 87% for depressed subjects and 89% for OTHER. Other regions were less sensitive, but more specific for the diagnosis of DAT. In particular parahippocampal gyrus and entorhinal cortex had high specificity (97% for depressed subjects and 98% for OTHER). Because of an age-related increase in atrophy, sensitivity was highest for those over the age of 75, while specificity was highest for younger subjects. Significant correlations were observed between atrophy ratings of hippocampus, amygdala, entorhinal cortex and parahippocampal gyrus and CAMCOG memory score and length of history.

Conclusions. Temporal lobe MRI may have an important role in assisting with the clinical diagnosis of DAT, particularly its differentiation from depression and other disorders that may cause diagnostic difficulties in clinical practice.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Dr John T. O'Brien, Castleside Unit, Newcastle General Hospital, Westgate Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE4 6BE.
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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