Contribution of Alzheimer’s biomarkers and risk factors to cognitive impairment and decline across the Alzheimer’s disease continuum

INTRODUCTION: Amyloid beta (Aβ), tau, and neurodegeneration jointly with the Alzheimer’s disease (AD) risk factors affect the severity of clinical symptoms and disease progression.
METHODS: Within 248 Aβ-positive elderly with and without cognitive impairment and dementia, partial least squares structural equation pathway modeling was used to assess the direct and indirect effects of imaging biomarkers (global Aβ-positron emission tomography [PET] uptake, regional tau-PET uptake, and regional magnetic resonance imaging-based atrophy) and risk-factors (age, sex, education, apolipoprotein E [APOE], and white-matter lesions) on cross-sectional cognitive impairment and longitudinal cognitive decline.
RESULTS: Sixteen percent of variance in cross-sectional cognitive impairment was accounted for by Aβ, 46% to 47% by tau, and 25% to 29% by atrophy, although 53% to 58% of total variance in cognitive impairment was explained by incorporating mediated and direct effects of AD risk factors. The Aβ-tau-atrophy pathway accounted for 50% to 56% of variance in longitudinal cognitive decline while Aβ, tau, and atrophy independently explained 16%, 46% to 47%, and 25% to 29% of the variance, respectively.
DISCUSSION: These findings emphasize that treatments that remove Aβ and completely stop downstream effects on tau and neurodegeneration would only be partially effective in slowing of cognitive decline or reversing cognitive impairment.