In this study, we examined the metabolic activity of nucleus basalis of Meynert (NBM) neurons in individuals clinically diagnosed with no cognitive impairment (NCI, n = 8), mild cognitive impairment (MCI, n = 9), and subjects with moderate Alzheimer disease (AD, n = 7). We used Golgi apparatus (GA) size as a measure of neuronal metabolic activity. Subjects with MCI showed increased NBM metabolic activity; they had significantly more neurons with larger GA size as compared with NCI and AD subjects. In contrast, more NBM neurons with extremely small GA sizes, indicating reduced metabolic activity, were seen in AD. When these cases were classified according to their AD pathology (Braak I-II, III-IV, or V-VI), Braak III-IV subjects showed significantly increased GA sizes, comparable with the increase in clinically diagnosed MCI, whereas in Braak V-VI, GA sizes were dramatically reduced. Of all MCI and NCI subjects with similar Braak III-IV pathology, the MCI subjects again had significantly larger GA sizes. The larger NBM neuronal GA size seen in MCI suggests increased metabolic activity, associated with both the clinical progression from NCI to MCI, and with the early stages of AD pathology.