Basal forebrain septal nuclei are enlarged in healthy subjects prior to the development of Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is known to be associated with loss of cholinergic neurons in the nucleus basalis of Meynert, located in the posterior basal forebrain. Structural changes of septal nuclei, located in the anterior basal forebrain, have not been well studied in AD. Using a validated algorithm, we manually traced septal nuclei on high-resolution coronal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in 40 subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or AD, 89 healthy controls, and 18 subjects who were cognitively normal at the time of MRI but went on to develop AD an average of 2.8 years later. We found that cognitively normal subjects destined to develop AD in the future had enlarged septal nuclei as compared to both healthy controls and patients with current MCI or AD. To our knowledge, this is the first time a brain structure has been found to be enlarged in association with risk of AD. Further research is needed to determine if septal enlargement reflects neuroplastic compensation, amyloid deposition, inflammation, or another process and to determine whether it can serve as an early MRI biomarker of AD.