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Neurology. 2001 Sep 11;57(5):817-21.

Neuroanatomy of the self: evidence from patients with frontotemporal dementia.

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Department of Neurology, UCSF School of Medicine, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA.



To evaluate the frequency and types of change in "self" seen in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and to determine the relative involvement of the nondominant and dominant frontal and temporal brain regions in FTD patients with or without changes in a sense of self using neuropsychology tests and neuroimaging.


The self has been defined as "the total, essential, or particular being of a person" involving "the essential qualities distinguishing one person from another." Some suggest that the frontal lobes play a dominant role in maintaining the self. FTD affects anterior frontal and temporal areas and can be associated with a loss of self.


Seventy-two consecutive FTD patients were evaluated with neuropsychiatric, neuropsychologic, and behavioral measures. Patients were imaged with MRI and SPECT. Charts were reviewed by a social psychologist to determine patients who exhibited a dramatic change in their self as defined by changes in political, social, or religious values. The brain areas with the most severe atrophy or hypoperfusion on neuroimaging were noted.


Seven of 72 patients exhibited a dramatic change in self. In six of the seven, the selective dysfunction involved the nondominant frontal region. In contrast, only one of the other 65 patients without selective nondominant frontal dysfunction showed a change in self.


FTD patients with asymmetric loss of function in the nondominant frontal lobe often exhibit a diminished maintenance of previously learned self-concepts despite intact memory and language. Normal nondominant frontal function is important for the maintenance of the self.

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