Importance: Racial differences in molecular biomarkers for Alzheimer disease may suggest race-dependent biological mechanisms. Objective: To ascertain whether there are racial disparities in molecular biomarkers for Alzheimer disease. Design, Setting, and Participants: A total of 1255 participants (173 African Americans) were enrolled from January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2015, in longitudinal studies at the Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center at Washington University and completed a magnetic resonance imaging study of the brain and/or positron emission tomography of the brain with Pittsburgh compound B (radioligand for aggregated amyloid-β) and/or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) assays for the concentrations of amyloid-β42, total tau, and phosphorylated tau 181 . Independent cross-sectional analyses were conducted from April 22, 2016, to August 27, 2018, for each biomarker modality with an analysis of variance or analysis of covariance including age, sex, educational level, race, apolipoprotein E (APOE) ϵ4 allele status, and clinical status (normal cognition or dementia). All biomarker assessments were conducted without knowledge of the clinical status of the participants. Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcomes were hippocampal volumes adjusted for differences in intracranial volumes, global cerebral amyloid burden as transformed into standardized uptake value ratios (partial volume corrected), and CSF concentrations of amyloid-β42, total tau, and phosphorylated tau 181 . Results: Of the 1255 participants (707 women and 548 men; mean [SD] age, 70.8 [9.9] years), 116 of 173 African American participants (67.1%) and 724 of 1082 non-Hispanic white participants (66.9%) had normal cognition. There were no racial differences in the frequency of cerebral ischemic lesions noted on results of brain magnetic resonance imaging, mean cortical standardized uptake value ratios for Pittsburgh compound B, or for amyloid-β42 concentrations in CSF. However, in individuals with a reported family history of dementia, mean (SE) total hippocampal volumes were lower for African American participants than for white participants (6418.26 [138.97] vs 6990.50 [44.10] mm 3 ). Mean (SE) CSF concentrations of total tau were lower in African American participants than in white participants (293.65 [34.61] vs 443.28 [18.20] pg/mL; P <.001), as were mean (SE) concentrations of phosphorylated tau 181 (53.18 [4.91] vs 70.73 [2.46] pg/mL; P <.001). There was a significant race by APOE ϵ4 interaction for both CSF total tau and phosphorylated tau 181 such that only APOE ϵ4-positive participants showed the racial differences. Conclusions and Relevance: The results of this study suggest that analyses of molecular biomarkers of Alzheimer disease should adjust for race. The lower CSF concentrations of total tau and phosphorylated tau 181 in African American individuals appear to reflect a significant race by APOE ϵ4 interaction, suggesting a differential effect of this Alzheimer risk variant in African American individuals compared with white individuals..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-273
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


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