Association of deficits in short-term learning and Aβ and hippocampal volume in cognitively normal adults
School of Medical and Health Sciences
© 2020 American Academy of Neurology. OBJECTIVE: To determine the extent to which deficits in learning over 6 days are associated with β-amyloid-positive (Aβ+) and hippocampal volume in cognitively normal (CN) adults. METHODS: Eighty CN older adults who had undergone PET neuroimaging to determine Aβ status (n = 42 Aβ- and 38 Aβ+), MRI to determine hippocampal and ventricular volume, and repeated assessment of memory were recruited from the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) study. Participants completed the Online Repeatable Cognitive Assessment-Language Learning Test (ORCA-LLT), which required they learn associations between 50 Chinese characters and their English language equivalents over 6 days. ORCA-LLT assessments were supervised on the first day and were completed remotely online for all remaining days. RESULTS: Learning curves in the Aβ+ CN participants were significantly worse than those in matched Aβ- CN participants, with the magnitude of this difference very large (d [95% confidence interval (CI)] 2.22 [1.64-2.75], p < 0.001), and greater than differences between these groups for memory decline since their enrollment in AIBL (d [95% CI] 0.52 [0.07-0.96], p = 0.021), or memory impairment at their most recent visit. In Aβ+ CN adults, slower rates of learning were associated with smaller hippocampal and larger ventricular volumes. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that in CN participants, Aβ+ is associated more strongly with a deficit in learning than any aspect of memory dysfunction. Slower rates of learning in Aβ+ CN participants were associated with hippocampal volume loss. Considered together, these data suggest that the primary cognitive consequence of Aβ+ is a failure to benefit from experience when exposed to novel stimuli, even over very short periods.