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A definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer disease (AD) depends on finding widespread neurofibrillary tangles and plentiful neuritic plaques in the brain of an individual with a clinical diagnosis of progressive dementia. Using contemporary diagnostic criteria, the antemortem diagnosis of probable AD in centers specialized for AD is confirmed 80% to 90% of the time. There is the suspicion, but no firm data, that diagnostic accuracy is much lower outside of practices dedicated to patients with dementia. Furthermore, the diagnostic workup is expensive. In most settings, the evaluation generally includes a careful medical history and physical examination; neurologic examination (and psychiatric consultation as indicated); laboratory blood studies to exclude underlying metabolic and medical illnesses that masquerade as AD; a mental status assessment and formal cognitive tests; and a computed tomographic scan or magnetic resonance imaging of the brain. Because these procedures are time-consuming and costly, there is a need to identify biological tests that can circumvent aspects of this workup and point the physician to the correct diagnosis. It would be highly desirable to measure a substance or substances in blood or urine samples or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that would lead to a positive diagnosis of AD without the need for specialized dementia clinics and the expense and time of standard diagnostic evaluations. In response to this need, the Reagan Research Institute of the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging convened a working group in 1997 to examine the status of various antemortem markers for AD. The consensus statement of this group, entitled "Molecular and Biochemical Markers of AD," was published in 1998. The consensus statement first defined the characteristics of an ideal biomarker, and then outlined the steps required for a proposed biomarker to achieve acceptance by the medical community. Finally, the statement reviewed the current state of all proposed biological markers. The workshop participants observed that none of the current biomarkers had yet achieved universal acceptance and concluded none fully met the consensus criteria for an ideal marker. Nonetheless, several tests were identified as good markers for familial AD, and several other tests showed promise as a diagnostic aid for sporadic AD. The purpose of this review is to put these recommendations into a practical context. What does the consensus statement tell the practicing clinician? How do the opinions in the consensus statement affect clinical practice in diagnosing and treating patients with dementia?
PMID: 10190817 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]