Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Clinical and Translational Science

First Advisor

Dr. Gregory A. Jicha

Second Advisor

Dr. Yang Jiang


Objective: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and subcortical vascular dementia are considered the most common pathologic contributors to dementia in the aging population. Both frequently coexist in over 80% of community dwelling adults with dementia. The neuropathological development of AD arguably begins with β-amyloid (Aβ) deposition in the brain. This series of studies aims to test the hypothesis that early focal regional amyloid deposition in the brain is associated with cognitive performance in specific cognitive domain scores in preclinical AD (pAD) (study1). Since mixed dementia is widely recognized as the norm rather than the exception, the second study aimed to explore the relation between regional and global Aβ and WMH with core cognitive function (executive function (EF) and memory) scores in cognitively normal (CN) older adults (study2). Finally, the relationship between WMH and Aβ is strongly determined by the spatial distribution of the two pathologies, so the third study aimed to quantify Aβ in Default mode network (DMN) regions to examine whether cerebral small vessels disease (SVD) disruption of connectivity affects Aβ deposition in disconnected DMN regions (study3).

Method: Global and regional Standard Uptake Value ratios (SUVr) from Aβ-PET, WMH volumes from MRI FLAIR images, and cognitive test scores were analyzed across a sample of CN participants. Linear regression models adjusted for age, sex and education used to assess the relationships between regional SUVr and cognitive test scores across 99 CN from Sanders Brown Center on Aging (study1). Moderation, and mediation modeling were used to define the interplay between global, regional Aβ and WMHs measures in relation to EF and memory composite scores outcomes at baseline and after approximately 2 years across a sample of 714 CN from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative ADNI (study2). The association of WMH volume in anatomically defined white matter tracts of atlas-based fiber tract with Aβ SUVr specifically in connected cortical regions within DMN was tested across sample of 74 CN from ADNI3.

Results: EF performance was associated with increased regional SUVr in the precuneus and posterior cingulate regions only (p < 0.05). The moderation regression analysis showed additive effects of Aβ and WMH over baseline memory and EF scores (p =0.401 and 0.061 respectively) and synergistic effects over follow-up EF (p < 0.05). Through mediation analysis, the data from study 2 showed that WMH affects, mediated by global and regional amyloid burden, are responsible for baseline cognitive performance deficits in memory and EF. Finally, the regression analysis from study 3 demonstrated that increased WMH volumes in superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) was associated with increased regional SUVr in inferior parietal lobule (IPL) (p < 0.05).

Conclusion: While the prevailing view in the field suggests that memory performance is the earliest clinical hallmark of AD, the present data demonstrate that changes in EF, mediated by Aβ deposition in the precuneus and posterior cingulate may precede memory decline in pAD. After adding the second key driver of cognitive decline in CN, the finding suggested that WMH dependent changes in baseline cognitive performance are related to direct effect of WMH and an indirect effect through both global and regional Aβ burden. Further studies are needed to show the longitudinal influences of WMH on Aβ distributions in participants with mixed dementia.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)