David N Soleimani-Meigooni, Leonardo Iaccarino, Renaud La Joie, Suzanne Baker, Viktoriya Bourakova, Adam L Boxer, Lauren Edwards, Rana Eser, Maria-Luisa Gorno-Tempini, William J Jagust, Mustafa Janabi, Joel H Kramer, Orit H Lesman-Segev, Taylor Mellinger, Bruce L Miller, Julie Pham, Howard J Rosen, Salvatore Spina, William W Seeley, Amelia Strom, Lea T Grinberg, Gil D Rabinovici
Brain, awaa276, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awaa276
Publication year: 2020

Few studies have evaluated the relationship between in vivo  18F-flortaucipir PET and post-mortem pathology. We sought to compare antemortem 18F-flortaucipir PET to neuropathology in a consecutive series of patients with a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative conditions. Twenty patients were included [mean age at PET 61 years (range 34–76); eight female; median PET-to-autopsy interval of 30 months (range 4–59 months)]. Eight patients had primary Alzheimer’s disease pathology, nine had non-Alzheimer tauopathies (progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, argyrophilic grain disease, and frontotemporal lobar degeneration with MAPT mutations), and three had non-tau frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Using an inferior cerebellar grey matter reference, 80–100-min 18F-flortaucipir PET standardized uptake value ratio (SUVR) images were created. Mean SUVRs were calculated for progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, and neurofibrillary tangle Braak stage regions of interest, and these values were compared to SUVRs derived from young, non-autopsy, cognitively normal controls used as a standard for tau negativity. W-score maps were generated to highlight areas of increased tracer retention compared to cognitively normal controls, adjusting for age as a covariate. Autopsies were performed blinded to PET results. There was excellent correspondence between areas of 18F-flortaucipir retention, on both SUVR images and W-score maps, and neurofibrillary tangle distribution in patients with primary Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology. Patients with non-Alzheimer tauopathies and non-tau frontotemporal lobar degeneration showed a range of tracer retention that was less than Alzheimer’s disease, though higher than age-matched, cognitively normal controls. Overall, binding across both tau-positive and tau-negative non-Alzheimer disorders did not reliably correspond with post-mortem tau pathology. 18F-flortaucipir SUVRs in subcortical regions were higher in autopsy-confirmed progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration than in controls, but were similar to values measured in Alzheimer’s disease and tau-negative neurodegenerative pathologies. Quantification of 18F-flortaucipir SUVR images at Braak stage regions of interest reliably detected advanced Alzheimer’s (Braak VI) pathology. However, patients with earlier Braak stages (Braak I–IV) did not show elevated tracer uptake in these regions compared to young, tau-negative controls. In summary, PET-to-autopsy comparisons confirm that 18F-flortaucipir PET is a reliable biomarker of advanced Braak tau pathology in Alzheimer’s disease. The tracer cannot reliably differentiate non-Alzheimer tauopathies and may not detect early Braak stages of neurofibrillary tangle pathology.