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Witnessed apneas are associated with elevated tau-PET levels in cognitively unimpaired elderly


Carvalho, Diego et al. (2021), Witnessed apneas are associated with elevated tau-PET levels in cognitively unimpaired elderly, Dryad, Dataset,


Objective: To assess whether informant-reported apneas during sleep (witnessed apneas) in cognitively unimpaired (CU) elderly persons are associated with higher levels of brain tau.

Methods: From the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, we identified 292 CU elderly aged >=65 years with both AV-1451 tau-PET and PiB-PET scans and whose bed partners and close relatives had completed a questionnaire that assessed whether participants had witnessed apneas during sleep. For this cross-sectional analysis, we selected the entorhinal and inferior temporal cortices as our regions of interest (ROI), because they are highly susceptible to tau accumulation. PET signal was scaled to the cerebellum crus to calculate standardized uptake value ratio (SUVR). We fit linear models to assess the association between regional tau and witnessed apneas, while controlling for age, sex, years of education, body mass index, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, reduced sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, and global PiB.

Results: 43 participants (14.7%) were found to have witnessed apneas during sleep. The report of witnessed apneas was associated with higher tau-PET SUVR elevation in our ROIs:  0.049 SUVR (95%CI: 0.010 – 0.087, p=.015) in the entorhinal cortex and 0.037 SUVR (95% CI: 0.007 – 0.067, p=.019) in the inferior temporal cortex, after controlling for confounders.

Conclusions: We identified a significant association between witnessed apneas in CU elderly and elevated tau-PET signal in tau-susceptible brain regions. These results suggest a plausible mechanism that could contribute to cognitive impairment and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Longitudinal observations will be necessary to determine direction of causality.