A cognitive concern from the patient, informant, or clinician is required for the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI); however, the cognitive and neuroanatomical correlates of complaint are poorly understood.


We assessed how self-complaint relates to cognitive and neuroimaging measures in older adults with MCI.


MCI participants were drawn from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative and dichotomized into two groups based on the presence of self-reported memory complaint (no complaint n = 191, 77 ± 7 years; complaint n = 206, 73 ± 8 years). Cognitive outcomes included episodic memory, executive functioning, information processing speed, and language. Imaging outcomes included regional lobar volumes (frontal, parietal, temporal, cingulate) and specific medial temporal lobe structures (hippocampal volume, entorhinal cortex thickness, parahippocampal gyrus thickness).


Linear regressions, adjusting for age, gender, race, education, Mini-Mental State Examination score, mood, and apolipoprotein E4 status, found that cognitive complaint related to immediate (β = -1.07, p < 0.001) and delayed episodic memory performances assessed on a serial list learning task (β = -1.06, p = 0.001) but no other cognitive measures or neuroimaging markers.


Self-reported memory concern was unrelated to structural neuroimaging markers of atrophy and measures of information processing speed, executive functioning, or language. In contrast, subjective memory complaint related to objective verbal episodic learning performance. Future research is warranted to better understand the relation between cognitive complaint and surrogate markers of abnormal brain aging, including Alzheimer's disease, across the cognitive aging spectrum.