Alzheimers Res Ther. 2023 Jul 21;15(1):126. doi: 10.1186/s13195-023-01275-w.
BACKGROUND: Traumatic encephalopathy syndrome (TES) is a clinical phenotype sensitive but non-specific to underlying chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) neuropathology. However, cognitive symptoms of TES overlap with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and features of AD pathology like beta-amyloid (Aβ) plaques often co-occur with CTE, making clinical-to-pathological conclusions of TES diagnoses challenging. We investigated how Alzheimer’s neuropathological changes associated with cognition, brain volume, and plasma biomarkers in patients with repetitive head impacts (RHI)/TES, clinical AD, or typically aging controls.
METHODS: We studied 154 participants including 33 with RHI/TES (age 61.5 ± 11.5, 100% male, 11/33 Aβ[ +]), 62 with AD and no known prior RHI (age 67.1 ± 10.2, 48% male, 62/62 Aβ[ +]), and 59 healthy controls without RHI (HC; age 73.0 ± 6.2, 40% male, 0/59 Aβ[ +]). Patients completed neuropsychological testing (memory, executive functioning, language, visuospatial) and structural MRI (voxel-based morphometry analysis), and provided plasma samples analyzed for GFAP, NfL, IL-6, IFN-γ, and YKL-40. For cognition and plasma biomarkers, patients with RHI/TES were stratified as Aβ[ +] or Aβ[ -] and compared to each other plus the AD and HC groups (ANCOVA adjusting for age and sex). Differences with at least a medium effect size (Cohen’s d > 0.50) were interpreted as potentially meaningful.
RESULTS: Cognitively, within the TES group, Aβ[ +] RHI/TES performed worse than Aβ[-] RHI/TES on visuospatial (p = .04, d = 0.86) and memory testing (p = .07, d = 0.74). Comparing voxel-wise brain volume, both Aβ[ +] and Aβ[ -] RHI/TES had lower medial and anterior temporal lobe volume than HC and did not significantly differ from AD. Comparing plasma biomarkers, Aβ[ +] RHI/TES had higher plasma GFAP than HC (p = .01, d = 0.88) and did not significantly differ from AD. Conversely, Aβ[ -] RHI/TES had higher NfL than HC (p = .004, d = 0.93) and higher IL-6 than all other groups (p’s ≤ .004, d’s > 1.0).
CONCLUSIONS: Presence of Alzheimer’s pathology in patients with RHI/TES is associated with altered cognitive and biomarker profiles. Patients with RHI/TES and positive Aβ-PET have cognitive and plasma biomarker changes that are more like patients with AD than patients with Aβ[ -] RHI/TES. Measuring well-validated Alzheimer’s biomarkers in patients with RHI/TES could improve interpretation of research findings and heighten precision in clinical management.