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Brain. 2006 Nov;129(Pt 11):3066-80.

Semantic dementia and fluent primary progressive aphasia: two sides of the same coin?

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  • 1Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit Cambridge, UK.


Considerable controversy exists regarding the relationship between semantic dementia (SD) and progressive aphasia. SD patients present with anomia and impaired word comprehension. The widely used consensus criteria also include the need for patients to exhibit associative agnosia and/or prosopagnosia: many authors have used the label SD for patients with non-verbal, as well as verbal, semantic deficits on formal testing even if they recognize the objects and people encountered in everyday life; others interpret the criterion of agnosia to require pervasive recognition impairments affecting daily life. According to this latter view, SD patients have pathology that disrupts both a bilateral ventrotemporal-fusiform network (resulting in agnosia) and the left hemisphere language network (resulting in profound aphasia). These authors suggest that this profile is different to that seen in the fluent form of primary progressive aphasia (fPPA), a neurodegenerative disease primarily affecting language function. We present data on seven patients who met the diagnostic criteria for fPPA. All seven showed deficits relative to matched controls on both verbal and non-verbal measures of semantic memory, and these deficits were modulated by degree of anomia, concept familiarity and item typicality. Voxel-based morphometry revealed reduced grey matter density in the temporal lobes bilaterally (more widespread on the left), with the severity of atrophy in the left inferior temporal lobe being significantly related to performance on both the verbal and non-verbal measures. Together these findings suggest that patients who meet the diagnostic criteria for fPPA, can also meet the diagnostic criteria for early-stage SD provided that the impact of concept familiarity and typicality is taken into account. In addition, these findings support a claim that the patients' deficits on both verbal and non-verbal tasks reflect progressive deterioration of an amodal integrative semantic memory system critically involving the rostral temporal lobes, rather than a combination of atrophy in the left language network and a separate bilateral ventrotemporal-fusiform network.

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