Memory Resilience in Alzheimer Disease With Primary Progressive Aphasia

M. Marsel Mesulam, Christina Coventry, Alan Kuang, Eileen H. Bigio, Qinwen Mao, Margaret E. Flanagan, Tamar Gefen, Jaiashre Sridhar, Changiz Geula, Hui Zhang, Sandra Weintraub, Emily J. Rogalski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objective To determine whether memory is preserved longitudinally in primary progressive aphasia (PPA) associated with Alzheimer disease (AD) and to identify potential factors that maintain memory despite underlying neurofibrillary degeneration of mediotemporal memory areas. Methods Longitudinal memory assessment was done in 17 patients with PPA with autopsy or biomarker evidence of AD (PPA-AD) and 14 patients with amnestic dementia of the Alzheimer type with AD at autopsy (DAT-AD). Results In PPA-AD, episodic memory, tested with nonverbal items, was preserved at the initial testing and showed no decline at retesting 2.35 ± 0.78 years later, at which time symptoms had been present for 6.26 ± 2.21 years. In contrast, language functions declined significantly during the same period. In DAT-AD, both verbal memory and language declined with equal severity. Although imaging showed asymmetric left-sided mediotemporal atrophy in PPA-AD, autopsy revealed bilateral hippocampo-entorhinal neurofibrillary degeneration at Braak stages V and VI. Compared to DAT-AD, however, the PPA-AD group had lower incidence of APOE ϵ4 and of mediotemporal TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) pathology. Conclusions Memory preservation in PPA is not just an incidental finding at onset but a core feature that persists for years despite the hippocampo-entorhinal AD neuropathology that is as severe as that of DAT-AD. Asymmetry of mediotemporal atrophy and a lesser impact of APOE ϵ4 and of TDP-43 on the integrity of memory circuitry may constitute some of the factors underlying this resilience. Our results also suggest that current controversies on memory in PPA-AD reflect inconsistencies in the diagnosis of logopenic PPA, the clinical variant most frequently associated with AD. Identifier NCT00537004 and NCT03371706.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E916-E925
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 9 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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