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Original Contribution |

Longitudinal Patterns of β-Amyloid Deposition in Nondemented Older Adults FREE

Jitka Sojkova, MD; Yun Zhou, PhD; Yang An, MS; Michael A. Kraut, MD, PhD; Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD; Dean F. Wong, MD, PhD; Susan M. Resnick, PhD
[+] Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health (Drs Sojkova, Ferrucci, and Resnick and Mr An); and Russell H. Morgan Departments of Radiology and Radiological Sciences (Drs Sojkova, Zhou, Kraut, and Wong) and Psychiatry (Dr Wong), The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Department of Environmental Health Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (Dr Wong), Baltimore, Maryland.


Arch Neurol. 2011;68(5):644-649. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.77.
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Published online

Background  High levels of β-amyloid (Aβ) characterize Alzheimer disease.

Objective  To investigate whether longitudinal changes in Aβ deposition can be detected in vivo in older adults without dementia (hereafter referred to as nondemented).

Design  Prospective study.

Setting  Community-dwelling older adults.

Participants  Twenty-four nondemented participants (4 with a baseline Clinical Dementia Rating Scale score of 0.5; mean [SD] age, 79.2 [8.1] years) in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging underwent serial carbon 11–labeled Pittsburgh Compound B–positron emission tomography ([11C]PiB-PET) (follow-up at a mean [SD] of 1.5 [0.5] years), with 5 participants undergoing a third [11C]PiB-PET examination.

Main Outcome Measures  Annual changes in distribution volume ratio (DVR) were evaluated using a global index of cortical DVR (cDVR) and region-of-interest analyses. Given the variability of cDVR at the initial PiB-PET, annual changes in cDVR in those with minimal vs those with elevated initial cDVR were compared.

Results  In nondemented older adults, annual increase in [11C]PiB retention is 0.011 DVR per year (0.9%; P = .01), which localizes to the prefrontal, parietal, lateral temporal, occipital, and anterior and posterior cingulate cortices. Annual change in cDVR is greater in older adults with elevated cDVR than in those with a minimal initial cDVR (P = .006).

Conclusions  Fibrillar Aβ detected by [11C]PiB-PET increases over time even in nondemented older adults. Individuals with higher initial [11C]PiB retention have greater rates of Aβ deposition, providing evidence of differential rates of Aβ deposition. Moreover, regional vulnerabilities to Aβ deposition allow for more targeted investigation of early Aβ changes.

Figures in this Article

Positron emission tomography (PET) amyloid imaging radiotracers have enabled longitudinal investigation of changes in fibrillar β-amyloid (Aβ) deposition in vivo.1 Although several studies24 have documented longitudinal changes in patients with Alzheimer disease (AD), information on serial changes in Aβ deposition in older adults is limited without dementia.4

In vivo imaging and postmortem studies of nondemented adults older than 70 years show elevated Aβ levels in approximately one-third of individuals.512 However, cross-sectional studies cannot determine whether trajectories of Aβ accumulation differ in individuals with elevated Aβ deposition compared with those with minimal initial Aβ deposition. Longitudinal investigations of individual differences in trajectories of Aβ accumulation in relation to cognitive outcomes are needed. Characterization of individuals with elevated Aβ deposition but with normal cognition also provides an opportunity for investigation of factors that explain why some individuals with elevated Aβ deposition progress to AD whereas others remain cognitively normal.13,14 Furthermore, longitudinal studies in nondemented older adults will provide information about the spatial patterns of Aβ change, which may guide more focused neuropathologic studies of the earliest regional changes.

To investigate longitudinal patterns of change in Aβ deposition, we evaluated 24 nondemented older participants in the Neuroimaging Substudy of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging who underwent at least 2 carbon 11–labeled Pittsburgh Compound B–positron emission tomography ([11C]PiB-PET) studies during intervals up to 2.6 years. We hypothesized that there is variation in the rates of Aβ deposition in cognitively normal individuals and that higher rates of Aβ deposition occur in those with higher Aβ levels at the initial [11C]PiB-PET. In addition, we anticipated regional variation in rates of Aβ deposition, with regions that show early Aβ deposition, such as the precuneus and the prefrontal cortex,8,9 demonstrating the clearest evidence of longitudinal change. Understanding longitudinal Aβ changes will contribute to the understanding of the association between Aβ deposition and progression to cognitive decline and AD.

STUDY PARTICIPANTS

Twenty-four nondemented participants in the Neuroimaging Substudy of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (4 with a Clinical Dementia Rating Scale [CDR] score = 0.5 at baseline) who underwent an initial [11C]PiB-PET and at least 1 follow-up scan (a mean [SD] of 1.5 [0.5] years after the initial scan) were included in the study. Five of the 24 participants also underwent a third [11C]PiB-PET study a mean (SD) of 2.2 (0.3) years after the initial scan. Exclusionary criteria at neuroimaging study enrollment included metastatic cancer, severe pulmonary or cardiovascular disease, and central nervous system disease (ie, stroke). Sample characteristics are given in Table 1.

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 1. Demographic, Genetic, and Cognitive Data

Written informed consent was obtained from each participant at each imaging visit. This study was approved by the institutional review boards of the National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program and The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

COGNITIVE STATUS AND NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION

Cognitive status was determined by consensus diagnosis according to established procedures.11,15 Consensus diagnosis was based on serial neuropsychological evaluations and the CDR,16 which was typically informant based. The neuropsychological measures used for consensus diagnosis obtained between 1986 and 2005 included tests of mental status, word knowledge and verbal ability, memory, language, verbal fluency, attention, executive function, and spatial ability. Individuals with CDR = 0.5 who do not meet the criteria for mild cognitive impairment typically have only mild memory loss on CDR and do not show clear evidence of decline on objective testing or functional loss. In addition to the diagnostic test battery, we administered the California Verbal Learning Test and the Benton Visual Retention Test as outcome measures of verbal and visual episodic memory, respectively.

Dynamic [11C]PiB-PET studies were performed using an Advance scanner (GE Advance; GE Healthcare, Waukesha, Wisconsin) in 3-dimensional mode, and 37 time frames (90-minute acquisition) were obtained during a resting state. Image acquisition started immediately after intravenous bolus injection of a mean (SD) of 14.5 (0.7) mCi [11C]PiB with mean (SD) specific activity of 4.4 (2.3) Ci/μmol (at the initial PiB-PET), 14.8 (0.8) mCi [11C]PiB with specific activity of 8.2 (5.1) Ci/μmol (at the second PiB-PET), and 14.9 (0.4) mCi [11C]PiB with specific activity of 6.3 (1.6) Ci/μmol in the 5 participants at the third PiB-PET. Participants were fitted with a thermoplastic mask for PET to minimize motion during scanning. Transmission scans in 2-dimensional mode using a Ge-68 source were used for attenuation correction. Dynamic images were reconstructed using filtered back projection with a ramp filter (image size = 128 × 128, pixel size = 2 × 2 mm, and section thickness = 4.25 mm), yielding a spatial resolution of approximately 4.5 mm full-width at half maximum at the center of field of view.

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGE–BASED REGION-OF-INTEREST DEFINITIONS

Spoiled gradient recalled magnetic resonance images (MRIs) (sections = 124, image matrix = 256 × 256, pixel size = 0.94 × 0.94 mm, and section thickness = 1.5 mm) were co-registered to the mean of the first 20-minute dynamic PET images for each participant using the mutual information method in the Statistical Parametric Mapping software (SPM2; Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, London, United Kingdom). Except for 1 claustrophobic participant in whom structural MRI was performed only 10 years before the initial [11C]PiB-PET study, participants had structural MRIs in conjunction with each [11C]PiB-PET study. Region-of-interest (ROI) definitions were based on the initial MRI, which was coregistered to the corresponding [11C]PiB-PET. The cerebellar gray matter ROI, which was used as the reference region, and 15 additional ROIs were manually drawn on the initial MRI and then were applied to the initial17,18 and coregistered follow-up PET scans.

QUANTIFICATION OF [11C]PiB RETENTION

Parametric distribution volume ratio (DVR) images were generated by simultaneous fitting of a simplified reference tissue model and linear regression with spatial constraint to dynamic [11C]PiB-PET images.17,19 The DVR values for the 15 ROIs were then extracted from the parametric images. Mean cortical DVR (cDVR) was calculated by averaging DVR values from orbitofrontal, prefrontal (including middle and inferior frontal gyri), superior frontal, parietal, lateral temporal, occipital, and anterior and posterior cingulate regions. Parametric images were then spatially normalized using an R1 (= K1/K1 [reference tissue], the target to reference tissue ratio of tracer transport rate constant from vascular space to tissue) template17 and smoothed with a gaussian filter of 8, 8, and 8 mm in the Talairach x, y, and z planes, respectively.

INITIAL [11C]PiB ASSESSMENT

The cDVR was used as an index of cortical [11C]PiB retention. In addition to evaluating the group of nondemented older adults as a whole, we also evaluated changes in [11C]PiB retention in individuals with minimal cDVR and elevated cDVR at the initial PiB-PET. We defined minimal cDVR as values less than 1.062 based on the test-retest variability for DVR using simplified reference tissue model analysis of ±6.2%20 and the fact that DVR = 1 denotes the absence of specific binding.

GLOBAL AND REGIONAL CHANGES IN [11C]PiB RETENTION

The cDVR at the initial and follow-up PiB-PET was first examined in relation to age at the initial PiB (Figure 1). Then, annual differences and annual percentage differences were estimated as differences between cDVR at first follow-up and at the initial PiB-PET, adjusted for interscan interval. Similarly, annual differences and percentage differences were also estimated for the 15 ROIs. The annual cDVR and regional changes in the whole group and in those with a minimal and an elevated initial cDVR were evaluated using the Wilcoxon signed rank tests to test whether DVR values increased over time (1-sided tests). In addition, a regression model was used to assess whether age (continuous or dichotomized at age 80 years) was a predictor of longitudinal change in cDVR.

Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure 1.

Trajectories of longitudinal changes in carbon 11–labeled Pittsburgh Compound B retention in 24 nondemented older adults, including 5 individuals with a third follow-up scan. The Clinical Dementia Rating Scale (CDR) score at each time point is noted. cDVR indicates cortical distribution volume ratio.

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Subsequently, we used the Wilcoxon rank sum tests to evaluate whether change in DVR differed between those with minimal vs elevated cDVR at the initial PiB-PET. We also repeated analyses examining whether baseline age (continuous or dichotomized at age 80 years) was an additional predictor of longitudinal change in cDVR, adding dichotomized baseline cDVR as an additional covariate.

CORTICAL [11C]PiB RETENTION AT INITIAL EVALUATION

The mean (SD) cDVR at the initial PiB evaluation was 1.179 (0.305) for the entire sample, 0.97 (0.046) for the group with a cDVR less than 1.062, and 1.514 (0.246) in the group with a cDVR of 1.062 or greater.

CHANGES IN GLOBAL [11C]PiB RETENTION

The mean (SD) annualized change in cDVR was 0.011 (0.033), with a median of 0.009 DVR per year (P = .01) (Figure 2). This represents a mean 0.9% annual increase in cDVR from baseline. Four older adults with CDR = 0.5 and 5 of 19 older adults with CDR = 0 had annualized changes in cDVR greater than 0.02 DVR per year. The greatest increase in cDVR was observed in an 84-year-old man with 1 apolipoprotein E ε4 allele who did not meet the clinical consensus criteria for mild cognitive impairment21 but had a CDR = 0.5 (CDR Sum of Boxes = 1.0). This participant's cDVR increased from 1.309 to 1.456 (11.2%) over 2.1 years. In 6 participants, cDVR was lower at follow-up than at the initial scan (mean [SD] annual change in cDVR of −0.026 [0.035]). In 5 of the 6 participants, cDVR decreased by less than 0.062 at follow-up PiB, with trends in this low DVR range likely reflecting random variation.

Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure 2.

Annual changes in mean cortical carbon 11–labeled Pittsburgh Compound B ([11C]PiB) retention. A, Nondemented older adults as a group. B, Older adults with minimal vs elevated initial [11C]PiB retention. Triangles represent individuals with a Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) Scale total score of 0.5. Two individuals with CDR = 0.5 have an annual change in mean cortical distribution volume ratio (cDVR) of 0.02. The horizontal line in the middle of each box indicates the median, and the top and bottom borders of the box mark the 75th and 25th percentiles, respectively. The whiskers above and below the box mark the 90th and 10th percentiles, respectively. The points beyond the whiskers are outliers beyond the 90th or 10th percentiles.

Graphic Jump Location

Annualized change in cDVR was significantly higher in those with elevated cDVR compared with those with a minimal cDVR at the initial evaluation (P = .006) (Figure 2). In participants with minimal cDVR at the initial PiB-PET, cDVR at follow-up did not significantly differ from initial cDVR (P > .06). In contrast, the group with an elevated cDVR at the initial PiB-PET showed significant increases in cDVR (P = .02), representing a 2.3% increase in cDVR from baseline.

Baseline age was not a significant predictor of annual change in cDVR, with or without baseline cDVR in the model. Also, change in cDVR was not significantly associated with change in specific activity.

CHANGES IN [11C]PiB RETENTION IN INDIVIDUALS WITH 3 [11C]PiB-PET STUDIES

Of the 5 participants with 3 [11C]PiB studies each, the largest increase of 0.13 DVR (11.1%) was observed over 2.45 years of follow-up in a participant with an initial cDVR of 1.22 (Figure 1). Overall, participants with an elevated initial cDVR showed mean (SD) increases of 0.045 (0.005) cDVR per year. Except for 1 individual who showed a nonlinear increase in cDVR, cDVR increases were linear over the 3 [11C]PiB-PET assessments (Figure 1). The cDVR of the 1 individual with minimal cDVR at the initial evaluation decreased slightly during 2-year follow-up.

REGIONAL CHANGES IN [11C]PiB RETENTION

The ROI analysis revealed increases in DVR in the prefrontal, superior frontal, parietal, lateral temporal, occipital, and anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, (P < .05) (Table 2). Overall, significant regional differences in annual change in DVR between those with a minimal cDVR vs those with an elevated cDVR at the initial PiB-PET were observed in the frontal, parietal, lateral temporal, occipital, and anterior cingulate cortices as well as in the caudate and thalamus (P < .05) (Table 2). Except for the thalamus and midbrain, no significant changes in regional DVR were observed in those with a minimal initial cDVR. In contrast, in participants with an elevated cDVR at the initial PiB-PET, increases in Aβ deposition were observed in the prefrontal, superior frontal, parietal, lateral temporal, occipital, and anterior cingulate cortices (P < .05) (Table 2).

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 2. Mean Cortical and Regional DVRs at Initial PiB Study and Annual Change in DVR
COGNITIVE STATUS, COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE, AND CHANGES IN Aβ DEPOSITION

None of the participants met the diagnostic criteria for mild cognitive impairment at the time of imaging or at follow-up. At the initial PiB study, 4 of the 24 participants had CDR = 0.5, with 1 additional participant having CDR = 0.5 at follow-up only (Figure 1). The cognitive status of this latter participant fluctuated over time, with CDR reaching 0.5 at only 3 of 6 annual visits preceding the initial [11C]PiB study. Although this participant's test scores were below the sample mean, declines in performance were inconsistent across memory outcomes. Except for this individual, participants in the sample with CDR = 0.5 showed increases over time in global cortical and regional [11C]PiB retention (Figures 1 and 2). Furthermore, individuals with an elevated PiB retention at the initial PiB-PET had worse longitudinal episodic memory performance in the years preceding PiB-PET (Table 1).

In this prospectively observed cohort of nondemented older adults, we found longitudinal increases in fibrillar Aβ deposition as detected by [11C]PiB-PET. Change in Aβ deposition varied across individuals, with some showing no change and others showing annual increases as high as 11.2% during 2.1-year follow-up. Variability in the annual rate of change was affected by global cDVR at the initial PiB-PET, and increases were greater in nondemented older adults with an elevated Aβ level compared with a minimal Aβ level at the initial evaluation. The ROI analysis showed that longitudinal increases in [11C]PiB retention were observed in the prefrontal, parietal, lateral temporal, occipital, and anterior and posterior cingulate cortices.

Using cDVR as a global index of [11C]PiB retention, we found increases in fibrillar Aβ deposition over time. This finding, together with a previous report of serial changes in [11C]PiB retention,4 provides evidence of longitudinal increases in Aβ deposition in nondemented older adults. The mean overall rate of increase in cortical [11C]PiB retention was only 0.011 DVR per year, a 0.9% increase from baseline DVR. Combined with findings by Jack et al,4 this suggests that the overall magnitude of change in [11C]PiB retention in older adults, at least during short follow-up, is small.

However, we observed variability in rates of change in [11C]PiB retention. On an individual level, we observed increases up to 11.2% DVR over 2.1 years, exceeding the ±6.2% test-retest variability reported for the simplified reference tissue model in [11C]PiB-PET studies.20,22 On the other hand, some nondemented older adults show no increases in [11C]PiB retention. To further investigate this variability, we evaluated whether increases in [11C]PiB retention over time differ from the initial [11C]PiB retention. Annual change in cDVR was significantly greater in older adults with an elevated [11C]PiB retention compared with minimal [11C]PiB retention at the initial PET scan. Cortical distribution volume ratio increased by a mean of 0.03 per year in older adults with elevated cDVR at initial evaluation, whereas those with minimal initial [11C]PiB retention showed no significant increase over time. These differential rates of [11C]PiB retention are consistent with models of longitudinal change proposing variable rates of Aβ deposition in nondemented older adults.13,23

Understanding factors that explain the variability in level and change over time in [11C]PiB retention may help differentiate between normal aging and cognitive impairment. Several models propose that accelerated Aβ deposition predicts which individuals will convert to AD.13,14,23,24 However, in the present study, 5 of 19 individuals who remain cognitively healthy (eg, CDR = 0) show longitudinal increases greater than 0.02 DVR per year, values comparable with increases in [11C]PiB retention in the 4 older adults with CDR = 0.5. Continued prospective follow-up of this cohort will determine whether individuals with greater change in [11C]PiB retention will ultimately show accelerated cognitive decline and will clarify the relationships between the trajectories of Aβ deposition, age, and cognitive status.

Investigation of the regional patterns of longitudinal increases in [11C]PiB retention is especially important in the group of nondemented older adults with lower and more localized regions of [11C]PiB retention. Except for the medial temporal gyrus, annual increases in [11C]PiB retention were observed in most cortical regions. These increases were detected not only in those with elevated baseline cDVR but also in the whole group of nondemented older adults. Of the cortical regions, the posterior cingulate gyrus had the highest annual increase in [11C]PiB retention of 1.3% DVR. Increases in [11C]PiB retention in the orbitofrontal gyrus were significant only when older adults with elevated vs minimal baseline cDVRs were compared, suggesting that at least in this sample, the magnitude of increase in [11C]PiB retention in the orbitofrontal gyrus may be relatively low compared with that in other regions. These findings extend those of previous cross-sectional studies8,9 of early Aβ deposition and may provide insights into the relationships of global and regional Aβ deposition with cognitive decline25 and changes in brain networks.10,26

This study has several limitations. Given the small magnitude of annual change in [11C]PiB retention and its variability, investigation of large numbers of nondemented older adults is needed to understand the role of Aβ deposition in the context of neuropsychological, genetic, and biomarker data. Longer-term follow-up is needed to investigate the trajectories of [11C]PiB retention and provide data about progression to disease. Nevertheless, this study of a well-characterized, prospectively observed, community-based sample provides detailed evaluation of [11C]PiB retention changes in nondemented older adults, including the regional patterns of changes in [11C]PiB retention.

The finding of increased [11C]PiB retention over time has several implications. First, the results of this study suggest that during short-term follow-up, Aβ deposition may be a gradual process, at least in nondemented adults. Second, there is substantial variability in the rates of [11C]PiB retention in nondemented older adults, which underscores the potential utility of the measure. Older adults with minimal baseline [11C]PiB deposition have little increase in [11C]PiB retention over time and, as such, may represent the 20% to 56% of nondemented individuals with no or minimal amounts of Aβ on postmortem evaluation.11,27 Third, given the small magnitude of overall change over time, regionally directed investigations may provide a better understanding of the interrelationship of AD biomarkers, cognition, and, ultimately, the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the earliest stage of Aβ deposition. Larger samples with longer follow-up are needed to better characterize the trajectories of fibrillar Aβ deposition in vivo and to define factors that render some individuals vulnerable and others resilient to Aβ deposition.

Correspondence: Susan M. Resnick, PhD, Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, National Institutes of Health Biomedical Research Center, National Institute on Aging, Intramural Research Program, 251 Bayview Blvd, Ste 100, Baltimore, MD 21224 (resnicks@grc.nia.nih.gov).

Accepted for Publication: July 28, 2010.

Author Contributions: All authors had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Study concept and design: Sojkova and Resnick. Acquisition of data: Ferrucci, Wong, and Resnick. Analysis and interpretation of data: Sojkova, Zhou, An, Kraut, Wong, and Resnick. Drafting of the manuscript: Sojkova and Wong. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Zhou, An, Kraut, Ferrucci, Wong, and Resnick. Statistical analysis: Sojkova, An, and Resnick. Obtained funding: Kraut and Resnick. Administrative, technical, and material support: Sojkova, Zhou, Wong, and Resnick. Study supervision: Ferrucci, Wong, and Resnick.

Financial Disclosure: Dr Wong has received research support from Amgen, Avid Radiopharmaceuticals Inc, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly & Co, Intra-Cellular Therapies Inc, Merck Serono, Orexigen Therapeutics Inc, Otuska Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, Roche, and sanofi-aventis.

Funding/Support: This research was supported by grants N01-AG-3-2124 and K24 DA000412 (Dr Wong) from the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging.

Additional Contributions: Andrew Crabb, MS, coordinated aspects of the study; Beth Nardi, MA, and Wendy Elkins, MS, managed the study. We thank the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging participants for their dedication to these studies and the staff of the PET facility at The Johns Hopkins University and the neuroimaging staff of the National Institute on Aging for their assistance.

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Figures

Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure 1.

Trajectories of longitudinal changes in carbon 11–labeled Pittsburgh Compound B retention in 24 nondemented older adults, including 5 individuals with a third follow-up scan. The Clinical Dementia Rating Scale (CDR) score at each time point is noted. cDVR indicates cortical distribution volume ratio.

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Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure 2.

Annual changes in mean cortical carbon 11–labeled Pittsburgh Compound B ([11C]PiB) retention. A, Nondemented older adults as a group. B, Older adults with minimal vs elevated initial [11C]PiB retention. Triangles represent individuals with a Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) Scale total score of 0.5. Two individuals with CDR = 0.5 have an annual change in mean cortical distribution volume ratio (cDVR) of 0.02. The horizontal line in the middle of each box indicates the median, and the top and bottom borders of the box mark the 75th and 25th percentiles, respectively. The whiskers above and below the box mark the 90th and 10th percentiles, respectively. The points beyond the whiskers are outliers beyond the 90th or 10th percentiles.

Graphic Jump Location

Tables

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 1. Demographic, Genetic, and Cognitive Data
Table Graphic Jump LocationTable 2. Mean Cortical and Regional DVRs at Initial PiB Study and Annual Change in DVR

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