DOI: 10.1002/alz.081734 ISSN: 1552-5260

Association of plasma Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative disease biomarkers with brain volume loss and cognitive decline

Heather E Dark, Michael R Duggan, Yang An, Murat Bilgel, Cassie Joynes, Alexandria Lewis, Abhay Moghekar, Susan M. Resnick, Keenan A. Walker
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Although plasma Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and neurodegenerative disease biomarkers have been associated with reduced cognition and lower brain volume, few studies have examined whether plasma biomarkers measured in predominately cognitively unimpaired adults are associated with longitudinal brain volume loss and cognitive decline. Using data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), we examined whether plasma biomarkers of AD pathology (Aß42/40, phosphorylated tau [pTau‐181]), reactive astrogliosis (glial fibrillary acidic protein [GFAP]), and neuronal injury (neurofilament light chain [NfL]) were associated with longitudinal brain volume loss and cognitive decline.


Plasma biomarkers (Aß42/40, pTau‐181, GFAP, NfL) were measured using Quanterix SIMOA assays. Baseline visits were considered the earliest visits that had concurrent 3T MRI scans and plasma biomarker measurements, and the earliest visits that had concurrent cognitive assessments and plasma biomarker measurements. Composite Z scores were computed to reflect 5 cognitive domains (Figure 1). Linear mixed effects models adjusted for baseline age, sex, race, education, estimated glomerular filtration rate, and total intracranial volume (brain volume analyses), were used to examine the association of plasma biomarkers with baseline and longitudinal brain volume and cognition. False Discovery Rate correction was used to adjust for multiple comparisons.


Brain volume analyses included 628 participants (mean age±SD: 71.0±10.2; Table 1) with an average of 3.3 MRI scans over 4.7 years. Cognition analyses included 686 participants (mean age±SD: 71.4±10.1) with an average of 3.9 cognitive assessments over 5.7 years. Although Aß42/40 was unrelated to brain volume changes, higher pTau‐181 was associated with longitudinal declines in total gray matter volume and regional declines in medial temporal regions. Higher GFAP was associated with longitudinal increases in ventricular volume, whereas NfL was not associated with brain volume change (Table 2). Both lower Aß42/40 and higher pTau‐181 were associated with a decline in verbal memory. Additionally, lower Aß42/40 was associated with a decline in visuospatial performance. Further, higher GFAP was associated with a decline in verbal fluency (Figure 1).


Plasma biomarkers of AD pathology and astrogliosis may serve as markers of future brain atrophy and cognitive decline.

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