First-degree relatives of individuals with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have increased risk for AD, with children of affected parents at an especially high risk.
We aimed to investigate default mode network connectivity, medial temporal cortex volume, and cognition in cognitively healthy (CH) individuals with (FH+) and without (FH-) a family history of AD, alongside amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) and AD individuals, to determine the context and directionality of dysfunction in at-risk individuals. Our primary hypothesis was that there would be a linear decline (CH FH- > CH FH+ > aMCI > AD) within the risk groups on all measures of AD risk.
We used MRI and fMRI to study cognitively healthy individuals (n = 28) with and without AD family history (FH+ and FH-, respectively), those with aMCI (n = 31) and early-stage AD (n = 25). We tested connectivity within the default mode network, as well as measures of volume and thickness within the medial temporal cortex and selected seed regions.
As expected, we identified decreased medial temporal cortex volumes in the aMCI and AD groups compared to cognitively healthy groups. We also observed patterns of connectivity across risk groups that suggest a nonlinear relationship of change, such that the FH+ group showed increased connectivity compared to the FH- and AD groups (CH FH+ > CH FH- > aMCI > AD). This pattern emerged primarily in connectivity between the precuneus and frontal regions.
These results add to a growing literature that suggests compensatory brain function in otherwise cognitively healthy individuals with a family history of AD.