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Functional Neurology

Magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography in the diagnosis of neurodegenerative dementias

Review, 205 - 215
doi: 10.11138/FNeur/2016.31.4.205
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Abstract
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Neuroimaging, both with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), has gained a pivotal role in the diagnosis of primary neurodegenerative diseases. These two techniques are used as biomarkers of both pathology and progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and to differentiate AD from other neurodegenerative diseases.
MRI is able to identify structural changes including patterns of atrophy characterizing neurodegenerative diseases, and to distinguish these from other causes of cognitive impairment, e.g. infarcts, space-occupying lesions and hydrocephalus.
PET is widely used to identify regional patterns of glucose utilization, since distinct patterns of distribution of cerebral glucose metabolism are related to different subtypes of neurodegenerative dementia.
The use of PET in mild cognitive impairment, though controversial, is deemed helpful for predicting conversion to dementia and the dementia clinical subtype. Recently, new radiopharmaceuticals for the in vivo imaging of amyloid burden have been licensed and more tracers are being developed for the assessment of tauopathies and inflammatory processes, which may underlie the onset of the amyloid cascade.
At present, the cerebral amyloid burden, imaged with PET, may help to exclude the presence of AD as well as forecast its possible onset. Finally PET imaging may be particularly useful in ongoing clinical trials for the development of dementia treatments. In the near future, the use of the above methods, in accordance with specific guidelines, along with the use of effective treatments will likely lead to more timely and successful treatment of neurodegenerative dementias.

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