Brain. 2014 Sep;137(Pt 9):2556-63. Epub 2014 Jul 2.
Nearly all adults with Down syndrome show neuropathology of Alzheimer’s disease, including amyloid-β deposition, by their fifth decade of life. In the current study, we examined the association between brain amyloid-β deposition, assessed via in vivo assessments of neocortical Pittsburgh compound B, and scores on an extensive neuropsychological battery of measures of cognitive functioning in 63 adults (31 male, 32 female) with Down syndrome aged 30–53 years who did not exhibit symptoms of dementia. Twenty-two of the adults with Down syndrome were identified as having elevated neocortical Pittsburgh compound B retention levels. There was a significant positive correlation (r = 0.62, P < 0.0001) between age and neocortical Pittsburgh compound B retention. This robust association makes it difficult to discriminate normative age-related decline in cognitive functioning from any potential effects of amyloid-β deposition. When controlling for chronological age in addition to mental age, there were no significant differences between the adults with Down syndrome who had elevated neocortical Pittsburgh compound B retention levels and those who did not on any of the neuropsychological measures. Similarly, when examining Pittsburgh compound B as a continuous variable, after controlling for mental age and chronological age, only the Rivermead Picture Recognition score was significantly negatively associated with neocortical Pittsburgh compound B retention. Our findings indicate that many adults with Down syndrome can tolerate amyloid-β deposition without deleterious effects on cognitive functioning. However, we may have obscured true effects of amyloid-β deposition by controlling for chronological age in our analyses. Moreover, our sample included adults with Down syndrome who were most ‘resistant’ to the effects of amyloid-β deposition, as adults already exhibiting clinical symptoms of dementia symptoms were excluded from the study.