11C-PIB-PET scan for early prediction of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

The numbers of people with dementia and other cognitive problems are increasing globally. A diagnosis of the pre-dementia phase of disease is recommended but there is no agreement on the best approach. A range of tests have been developed which healthcare professionals can use to assess people with poor memory or cognitive impairment. Based on the published data, we have found that the 11C-PIB-PET scan as a single test lacks the accuracy to identify those patients with MCI who would develop Alzheimer's disease dementia or other forms of dementia. The findings indicate that for every 100 PIB scans, one person with a negative scan will progress to Alzheimer's disease dementia and 28 with a positive scan will not. Therefore, a positive PIB scan in patients with MCI is of no clinical value in the early prediction of Alzheimer's disease dementia developing.

Authors' conclusions: 

Although the good sensitivity achieved in some included studies is promising for the value of 11C-PIB-PET, given the heterogeneity in the conduct and interpretation of the test and the lack of defined thresholds for determination of test positivity, we cannot recommend its routine use in clinical practice.11C-PIB-PET biomarker is a high cost investigation, therefore it is important to clearly demonstrate its accuracy and standardise the process of the 11C-PIB diagnostic modality prior to it being widely used.

Read the full abstract...

According to the latest revised National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke and the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association (now known as the Alzheimer's Association) (NINCDS-ADRDA) diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer's disease dementia, the confidence in diagnosing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer's disease dementia is raised with the application of imaging biomarkers. These tests, added to core clinical criteria, might increase the sensitivity or specificity of a testing strategy. However, the accuracy of biomarkers in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease dementia and other dementias has not yet been systematically evaluated. A formal systematic evaluation of the sensitivity, specificity, and other properties of positron emission tomography (PET) imaging with the 11C-labelled Pittsburgh Compound-B (11C-PIB) ligand was performed.


To determine the diagnostic accuracy of the 11C- PIB-PET scan for detecting participants with MCI at baseline who will clinically convert to Alzheimer’s disease dementia or other forms of dementia over a period of time.

Search strategy: 

The most recent search for this review was performed on 12 January 2013. We searched MEDLINE (OvidSP), EMBASE (OvidSP), BIOSIS Previews (ISI Web of Knowledge), Web of Science and Conference Proceedings (ISI Web of Knowledge), PsycINFO (OvidSP), and LILACS (BIREME). We also requested a search of the Cochrane Register of Diagnostic Test Accuracy Studies (managed by the Cochrane Renal Group).

No language or date restrictions were applied to the electronic searches and methodological filters were not used so as to maximise sensitivity.

Selection criteria: 

We selected studies that had prospectively defined cohorts with any accepted definition of MCI with baseline 11C-PIB-PET scan. In addition, we only selected studies that applied a reference standard for Alzheimer's dementia diagnosis for example NINCDS-ADRDA or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) criteria.

Data collection and analysis: 

We screened all titles generated by electronic database searches. Two review authors independently assessed the abstracts of all potentially relevant studies. The identified full papers were assessed for eligibility and data were extracted to create two by two tables. Two independent assessors performed quality assessment using the QUADAS 2 tool. We used the hierarchical summary receiver operating characteristic (ROC) model to produce a summary ROC curve.

Main results: 

Conversion from MCI to Alzheimer's disease dementia was evaluated in nine studies. The quality of the evidence was limited. Of the 274 participants included in the meta-analysis, 112 developed Alzheimer’s dementia. Based on the nine included studies, the median proportion converting was 34%. The studies varied markedly in how the PIB scans were done and interpreted.

The sensitivities were between 83% and 100% while the specificities were between 46% and 88%. Because of the variation in thresholds and measures of 11C-PIB amyloid retention, we did not calculate summary sensitivity and specificity. Although subject to considerable uncertainty, to illustrate the potential strengths and weaknesses of 11C-PIB-PET scans we estimated from the fitted summary ROC curve that the sensitivity was 96% (95% confidence interval (CI) 87 to 99) at the included study median specificity of 58%. This equated to a positive likelihood ratio of 2.3 and a negative likelihood ratio of 0.07. Assuming a typical conversion rate of MCI to Alzheimer’s dementia of 34%, for every 100 PIB scans one person with a negative scan would progress and 28 with a positive scan would not actually progress to Alzheimer’s dementia.

There were limited data for formal investigation of heterogeneity. We performed two sensitivity analyses to assess the influence of type of reference standard and the use of a pre-specified threshold. There was no effect on our findings.