Blood biomarkers as surrogate endpoints of treatment responses to aerobic exercise and cognitive training (ACT) in amnestic mild cognitive impairment: the blood biomarkers study protocol of a randomized controlled trial (the ACT Trial).


Li D, Mielke MM, Bell WR, Reilly C, Zhang L, Lin FV and Yu F.

Trials. 2020;21:19.




Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an epidemic with tremendous public health impacts because there are currently no disease-modifying therapeutics. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for prevention of AD dementia often use clinical endpoints that take years to manifest (e.g., cognition) or surrogate endpoints that are costly or invasive (e.g., magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]). Blood biomarkers represent a clinically applicable alternative surrogate endpoint for RCTs that would be both cost-effective and minimally invasive, but little is known about their value as surrogate endpoints for treatment responses in the prevention of AD dementia.


The objective of this study is to investigate blood neuropathological, neurodegenerative, and neurotrophic biomarkers as surrogate endpoints for treatment responses to three interventions in older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI, a prodromal stage of AD): aerobic exercise, cognitive training, and combined aerobic exercise and cognitive training (ACT). We chose these three sets of biomarkers for their unique mechanistic associations with AD pathology, neurodegeneration and neurogenesis. This study is built on the ACT Trial (1R01AG055469), a single-blinded, multi-site, 2 × 2 factorial phase II RCT that examines the synergistic effects of a 6-month ACT intervention on cognition and MRI biomarkers (AD-signature cortical thickness and hippocampal volume) (n = 128). In this ACT Trial blood biomarkers study, we will enroll 120 ACT Trial participants with aMCI and measure blood biomarkers at baseline and at 3, 6, 12, and 18 months. The goals are to (1) determine the effect of interventions on blood biomarkers over 6 months, (2) evaluate blood biomarkers as surrogate endpoints for predicting cognitive responses to interventions over 18 months, and (3, exploratory) examine blood biomarkers as surrogate endpoints for predicting brain MRI biomarker responses to interventions over 18 months.


This study aims to identify new blood biomarkers that can track cognitive decline or AD-related brain atrophy among patients with aMCI subjected to a regimen of aerobic exercise and cognitive training. Findings from this study will drive the further use of blood biomarkers in developing effective prevention and treatment strategies for AD dementia.