Functional near-infrared spectroscopy reveals decreased resting oxygenation levels and task-related oxygenation changes in mild cognitive impairment and dementia: A systematic review

Michael K. Yeung, Agnes S. Chan (Corresponding Author)

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Nuclear medicine and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown that mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease (AD), are characterized by changes in cerebral blood flow. This article reviews the application of an alternative method, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), to the study of cerebral oxygenation changes in MCI and dementia. We synthesized 36 fNIRS studies that examined hemodynamic changes during both the resting state and the execution of tasks of word retrieval, memory, motor control, and visuospatial perception in MCI and dementia. This qualitative review reveals that (amnestic) MCI and AD patients have disrupted frontal and long-range connectivity in the resting state compared to individuals with normal cognition (NC). These patients also exhibit reduced frontal oxygenation changes in various cognitive domains. The review also shows that disrupted connectivity and decreased frontal oxygenation levels/changes are more severe in AD than in (amnestic) MCI, confirming that MCI is an intermediate stage between NC and dementia. Thus, there is reduced resting frontal perfusion, which is greater than expected for age, and a lack of frontal compensatory responses to functional decline across cognitive operations (i.e., word retrieval and memory functioning) in MCI and AD. These indices might potentially serve as perfusion- or oxygenation-based biomarkers for MCI/dementia. To expand the utility of fNIRS for MCI and dementia, further studies that measure tissue oxygenation in a wider range of brain regions and cognitive domains, compare different MCI and dementia types, and correlate changes in cerebral oxygenation over time with disease progression are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-76
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Alzheimer
  • Biomarker
  • MCI
  • Neuroimaging
  • NIRS
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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