DTI image of mouse brain

Early features of Alzheimer’s disease can now be detected using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The study, conducted by PhD student Georg Kerbler in Associate Professor Elizabeth Coulson’s laboratory, used MRI to detect loss of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons – an early feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

The team used a method of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to detect changes in structural integrity and brain connectivity in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The aim of this study was to determine whether earlier neurodegenerative changes in the basal forebrain could be detected using DTI in a rodent model,” says Associate Professor Coulson.

“By doing this, we were able to demonstrate that it might be possible to detect signs of Alzheimer’s onset, before a significant loss of basal forebrain cells was observed,” she said.

The Coulson laboratory is now further developing their methods by analysing human MRI scans.

Detecting degeneration of nerve cells ahead of cell loss gives greater opportunity for targeted intervention.

“If this method works in humans it could assist in patients being identified sooner, which would allow for earlier treatment,” says Associate Professor Coulson.

 “These findings provide increased support for using DTI and probabilistic tractography as non-invasive tools for diagnosing and/or monitoring the progression of conditions affecting the integrity of the basal forebrain cholinergic system in humans, including Alzheimer’s disease.”

Image: A DTI image of the brain of a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, by PhD student Georg Kerbler