Apathy in frontotemporal dementia is related to medial prefrontal atrophy and is independent of executive dysfunction

Simone de Andrade Baião Gonçalves, Paulo Caramelli, Luciano Inácio Mariano, Henrique Cerqueira Guimarães, Leandro Boson Gambogi, Elisa de Paula França Resende, Antônio Lúcio Teixeira, Leonardo Cruz de Souza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Introduction: Apathy is the most common neuropsychiatric syndrome in behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), and encompasses cognitive, behavioral and affective symptoms. The neural basis of apathy in bvFTD is not completely understood. Previous neuroimaging studies have poorly considered executive impairment and dementia severity as possible confounding factors. Herein we investigated the neural basis of apathy in bvFTD through structural neuroimaging taking into account these factors. Methods: We included patients with probable bvFTD (n = 21) and cognitively healthy controls (HC, n = 22). Participants were matched for age, sex and schooling. All subjects underwent a thorough neuropsychological examination, including tests for executive functions and social cognition. Apathy was assessed with the Starkstein Apathy Scale (SAS). All subjects underwent 3T brain MRI. We investigated correlations between SAS scores and gray matter atrophy within the bvFTD group. Executive function (Frontal Assessment Battery) and disease severity were considered as covariates in neuroimaging analyses. Results: Compared to HC, bvFTD patients had lower scores on global cognitive efficiency, executive functions and social cognition. All bvFTD had clinically relevant apathy (scores greater than 14 in the SAS). Performance in executive function tests did not correlate with apathy scores. The severity of apathy was negatively correlated with gray matter volumes in midline prefrontal regions, namely orbitofrontal cortex and both anterior and dorsal regions of cingulate cortex. Conclusions: Apathy in bvFTD is related to a specific network of prefrontal cortical areas critically involved in effort-based behavior for rewards and appears to be independent of executive dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number146799
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Jun 15 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Apathy
  • Behavior
  • Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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