Both plasma tau phosphorylated at threonine-181 (pTau181) and tau PET show potential for detecting Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology and predicting clinical progression. In this study, we performed a head-to-head comparison between plasma pTau181 and tau PET along the AD continuum. Methods: We included participants from the Amsterdam Dementia Cohort who underwent 18F-flortaucipir (tau) PET and had a plasma sample biobanked within 12 mo from tau PET. Fifty subjective cognitive decline (SCD) participants (31 Ab-negative and 19 Ab-positive) and 60 Ab-positive participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia due to AD were included. A subset had 2-y longitudinal plasma pTau181 and tau PET available (n 5 40). Longitudinal neuropsychological test data covering 3.2 6 2.7 y from both before and after tau PET were available. Plasma pTau181 and tau PET were compared in their accuracies in discriminating between cognitive stage (MCI/AD vs. SCD) and preclinical Ab status (SCD Ab-positive vs. SCD Ab-negative), their associations with cross-sectional and longitudinal neuropsychological test performance, and their longitudinal changes over time. Results: When discriminating between preclinical Ab status, the area under the curve (AUC) for plasma pTau181 (0.83) and tau PET (entorhinal, 0.87; temporal, 0.85; neocortical, 0.67) were equally high (all DeLong P . 0.05), but tau PET outperformed plasma pTau181 in discriminating MCI/AD from SCD (AUC for plasma pTau181: 0.74; AUCs for tau PET: entorhinal, 0.89; temporal, 0.92; neocortical, 0.89) (all P, 0.01). Overall, tau PET showed stronger associations with cognitive decline and was associated with a wider variety of cognitive tests than plasma pTau181 (plasma pTau181, 20.02 . b, 20.12; tau PET, 20.01 . b, 20.22). Both plasma pTau181 and tau PET increased more steeply over time in MCI/AD than in SCD (P, 0.05), but only tau PET annual changes were associated with cognitive decline. Conclusion: Our results suggest that plasma pTau181 and tau PET perform equally well in identifying Ab pathology but that tau PET better monitors disease stage and clinical progression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-443
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of nuclear medicine : official publication, Society of Nuclear Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • plasma pTau181
  • tau PET

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