The anatomy of apathy: A neurocognitive framework for amotivated behaviour

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Apathy is a debilitating syndrome associated with many neurological disorders, including several common neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, and focal lesion syndromes such as stroke. Here, we review neuroimaging studies to identify anatomical correlates of apathy, across brain disorders. Our analysis reveals that apathy is strongly associated with disruption particularly of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), ventral striatum (VS) and connected brain regions. Remarkably, these changes are consistent across clinical disorders and imaging modalities.Review of the neuroimaging findings allows us to develop a neurocognitive framework to consider potential mechanisms underlying apathy. According to this perspective, an interconnected group of brain regions – with dACC and VS at its core – plays a crucial role in normal motivated behaviour. Specifically we argue that motivated behaviour requires a willingness to work, to keep working, and to learn what is worth working for. We propose that deficits in any one or more of these processes can lead to the clinical syndrome of apathy, and outline specific approaches to test this hypothesis. A richer neurobiological understanding of the mechanisms underlying apathy should ultimately facilitate development of effective therapies for this disabling condition.HighlightsA consistent anatomical basis for apathy across neurological disorders.Imaging reveals close ties to anterior cingulate and ventral striatum disruption.Three core components provide a framework for amotivation linked to these circuits:Choosing when to act, sustaining action and learning the value of actions.This approach provides testable hypotheses of the mechanisms underlying apathy.

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