Transcranial magnetic stimulation distinguishes Alzheimer disease from frontotemporal dementia

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To determine whether a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) multiparadigm approach can be used to distinguish Alzheimer disease (AD) from frontotemporal dementia (FTD).


Paired-pulse TMS was used to investigate short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) and facilitation (ICF), long-interval intracortical inhibition, and short-latency afferent inhibition (SAI) to measure the activity of different intracortical circuits in patients with AD, patients with FTD, and healthy controls (HC). The primary outcome measures were sensitivity and specificity of TMS measures, derived from receiver operating curve analysis.


A total of 175 participants met the inclusion criteria. We diagnosed 79 patients with AD, 64 patients with FTD, and 32 HC. We found that while patients with AD are characterized by a specific impairment of SAI, FTD shows a remarkable dysfunction of SICI-ICF intracortical circuits. With the use of the best indexes, TMS differentiated FTD from AD with a sensitivity of 91.8% and specificity of 88.6%, AD from HC with a sensitivity of 84.8% and specificity of 90.6%, and FTD from HC with a sensitivity of 90.2% and specificity of 78.1%. These results were confirmed in patients with mild disease.


TMS is a noninvasive procedure that reliably distinguishes AD from FTD and HC and, if these findings are replicated in larger studies, could represent a useful additional diagnostic tool for clinical practice.

Classification of evidence:

This study provides Class III evidence that TMS measures can distinguish patients with AD from those with FTD.

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