Racial Disparity in Cerebrospinal Fluid Amyloid and Tau Biomarkers and Associated Cutoffs for Mild Cognitive Impairment

Stephanie L. Garrett, Darius McDaniel, Malik Obideen, Antoine R. Trammell, Leslie M. Shaw, Felicia C. Goldstein, Ihab Hajjar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Importance: Prior evidence suggests that racial differences exist in tau biomarkers in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer disease (AD). Whether this reported disparity is associated with a differential level of neurodegeneration and disease stage or with underlying mechanisms separate from amyloid or tau is unclear. Objectives: To compare cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers in African American and white individuals with normal cognition and MCI, to estimate race-based cutoffs for these biomarkers that maximize diagnostic discrimination between normal cognition and MCI, and to study the association of demographic characteristics, cognitive performance, and common vascular risk factors with these differences. Design, Setting, and Participants: This case-control study conducted from March 1, 2016, through January 31, 2019, included participants in the Brain Stress Hypertension and Aging Research Program cohort undergoing baseline assessment. Participants were 50 years or older and recruited from the Atlanta, Georgia, area. Exposures: Self-reported race and cognitive status categorized using modified Petersen criteria and clinical consensus diagnosis. Main Outcomes and Measures: Levels of β-amyloid 1-42 (Aβ1-42), tau, and phosphorylated tau 181 (pTau181), the ratio of tau or pTau181 to Aβ1-42, and hippocampal volume on magnetic resonance imaging of the brain. Results: Data from 362 study participants were analyzed (mean [SD] age, 65.6 [7.9] years), of whom 152 (42.0%) were African American, 230 (63.5%) were women, and 189 (52.2%) had MCI. After adjustment for demographic characteristics and cognitive performance, lower mean (SE) levels were observed in African American vs white individuals with MCI for tau (52.40 [5.90] vs 78.98 [5.02] pg/mL; P =.001) and pTau181 (15.42 [2.06] vs 25.24 [1.75] pg/mL; P =.001) and a lower pTau181 to Aβ1-42 ratio (0.07 [0.02] vs 0.14 [0.01]; P =.003). There were no racial differences in the normal cognition group or in hippocampal volumes in the MCI group. Cutoffs for CSF biomarkers were higher for Aβ1-42 in African American relative to white individuals (208 [95% CI, 126-321] vs 197 [95% CI, 183-245] pg/mL) and lower for tau (51 [95% CI, 31-59] vs 59 [95% CI, 56-92] pg/mL) and pTau181 (12 [95% CI, 12-19] vs 20 [95% CI, 12-27] pg/mL) levels. Cutoffs for the pTau181 to Aβ1-42 ratio were 0.05 (95% CI, 0.03-0.12) for African American participants and 0.05 (95% CI, 0.05-0.13) for white participants. Conclusions and Relevance: This study found that African American individuals had lower levels of tau-based biomarkers that were not likely explained by the degree of disease stage or neurodegeneration reflected by hippocampal volumes. This study suggests that race is an important factor when interpreting CSF biomarkers, especially in the clinical diagnosis of prodromal AD. It appears that using the pTau181 to Aβ1-42 ratio may ameliorate these differences..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1917363
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 13 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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