On the right side? A longitudinal study of left- versus right-lateralized semantic dementia

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Abstract

The typical presentation of semantic dementia is associated with marked, left predominant anterior temporal lobe atrophy and with changes in language. About 30% of individuals, however, present with predominant right anterior temporal lobe atrophy, usually accompanied by behavioural changes and prosopagnosia. Here, we aimed to establish whether these initially distinct clinical presentations evolve into a similar syndrome at the neural and behavioural level. Thirty-one patients who presented with predominant anterior temporal lobe atrophy were included. Based on imaging, patients were categorized as either predominant left (n = 22) or right (n = 9) semantic dementia. Thirty-three Alzheimer’s disease patients and 25 healthy controls were included for comparison. Participants completed the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination, a Face and Emotion Processing Battery and the Cambridge Behavioural Inventory, and underwent magnetic resonance imaging annually. Longitudinal neuroimaging analyses showed greater right temporal pole atrophy in left semantic dementia than Alzheimer’s disease, whereas right semantic dementia showed greater orbitofrontal and left temporal lobe atrophy than Alzheimer’s disease. Importantly, direct comparisons between semantic dementia groups revealed that over time, left semantic dementia showed progressive thinning in the right temporal pole, whereas right semantic dementia showed thinning in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate. Behaviourally, longitudinal analyses revealed that general cognition declined in all patients. In contrast, patients with left and right semantic dementia showed greater emotion recognition decline than Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, left semantic dementia showed greater motivation loss than Alzheimer’s disease. Correlational analyses revealed that emotion recognition was associated with right temporal pole, right medial orbitofrontal and right fusiform integrity, while changes in motivation were associated with right temporal pole cortical thinning. While left and right semantic dementia show distinct profiles at presentation, both phenotypes develop deficits in emotion recognition and behaviour. These findings highlight the pervasive socio-emotional deficits in frontotemporal dementia, even in patients with an initial language presentation. These changes reflect right anterior temporal and orbitofrontal cortex degeneration, underscoring the role of these regions in social cognition and behaviour.

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