03:59am Sunday 31 May 2020

Size Matters: Measuring Brain Thickness Identifies Those at High Risk for Cognitive Decline, Penn Study Shows

The study is published in the December 21, 2011, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The team looked at measurements of cortical thickness in the brain, an indicator of brain atrophy usually due to loss of neurons or their connections. Using MRI scans, they measured cortical thickness in several brain regions that had previously been shown to be associated with the injury due to early Alzheimer’s disease. In this case, these measurements were obtained in cognitively normal adults who were followed over time, allowing the researchers to assess whether cortical thinning in these regions tracked with their cognitive abilities.  

Researchers found that individuals at high risk for preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease, based on reduced cortical thickness in these regions, were more likely to experience cognitive decline, which developed in 21 percent of cases, compared with 7 percent of average risk cases, and 0 percent of low risk cases.

“The ability to determine who is at greatest risk for Alzheimer’s Disease among cognitively normal older adults may allow us to better focus preventative interventions on these patients prior to their developing symptoms,” said study co-author David Wolk, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Assistant Director of the Penn Memory Center. “Further research is needed to explore whether this measure alone, or in combination with other diagnostic tools, bests predicts future development of Alzheimer’s Disease.” 


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4 billion enterprise.

Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools and among the top 10 schools for primary care. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $507.6 million awarded in the 2010 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; and Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2010, Penn Medicine provided $788 million to benefit our community.

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