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Behavioural Neurology
Volume 21 (2009), Issue 1-2, Pages 77-91

Functional MRI Assessment of Task-Induced Deactivation of the Default Mode Network in Alzheimer’s Disease and At-Risk Older Individuals

Maija Pihlajamäki1,2 and Reisa A. Sperling1,3

1Memory Disorders Unit, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
2Unit of Neurology, Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Kuopio, Kuopio, Finland
3Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Received 16 October 2009; Accepted 16 October 2009

Copyright © 2009 Hindawi Publishing Corporation and the authors. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in old age, and is characterized by prominent impairment of episodic memory. Recent functional imaging studies in AD have demonstrated alterations in a distributed network of brain regions supporting memory function, including regions of the default mode network. Previous positron emission tomography studies of older individuals at risk for AD have revealed hypometabolism of association cortical regions similar to the metabolic abnormalities seen in AD patients. In recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of AD, corresponding brain default mode regions have also been found to demonstrate an abnormal fMRI task-induced deactivation response pattern. That is, the relative decreases in fMRI signal normally observed in the default mode regions in healthy subjects performing a cognitive task are not seen in AD patients, or may even be reversed to a paradoxical activation response. Our recent studies have revealed alterations in the pattern of deactivation also in elderly individuals at risk for AD by virtue of their APOE e4 genotype, or evidence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In agreement with recent reports from other groups, these studies demonstrate that the pattern of fMRI task-induced deactivation is progressively disrupted along the continuum from normal aging to MCI and to clinical AD and more impaired in e4 carriers compared to non-carriers. These findings will be discussed in the context of current literature regarding functional imaging of the default network in AD and at-risk populations.