Redefining the multidimensional clinical phenotypes of frontotemporal lobar degeneration syndromes

Alexander G. Murley, Ian Coyle-Gilchrist, Matthew Rouse, P Simon Jones, Win Li, Julie Wiggins, Claire Lansdall, Patricia Vázquez Rodríguez, Alicia Wilcox, Kamen A. Tsvetanov, Karalyn Patterson, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph, James B. Rowe

Research output: Working paperPreprint


The syndromes caused by frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) have highly heterogenous and overlapping clinical features. There has been great progress in the refinement of clinical diagnostic criteria in the last decade, but we propose that a better understanding of aetiology, pathophysiology and symptomatic treatments can arise from a transdiagnostic approach to clinical phenotype and brain morphometry. In a cross-sectional epidemiological study, we examined 310 patients with a syndrome likely to be caused by frontotemporal lobar degeneration, including behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), the non-fluent (nfvPPA), semantic (svPPA) variants of primary progressive aphasia, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal syndrome (CBS). We also included patients with logopenic primary progressive aphasia (lvPPA) and those who met criteria for PPA but not one of the three subtypes. To date, forty-nine patients have a neuropathological diagnosis. A principal component analysis identified symptom dimensions that broadly recapitulated the core features of the main clinical syndromes. However, the subject-specific scores on these dimensions showed considerable overlap across the diagnostic groups. Sixty-two percent of participants had phenotypic features that met the diagnostic criteria for more than one syndrome. Behavioural disturbance was prevalent in all groups. Forty-four percent of patients with CBS had PSP-like features and thirty percent of patients with PSP had CBS-like features. Many patients with PSP and CBS had language impairments consistent with nfvPPA while patients with bvFTD often had semantic impairments. Using multivariate source-based morphometry on a subset of patients (n=133), we identified patterns of co-varying brain atrophy that were represented across the diagnostic groups. Canonical correlation analysis of clinical and imaging components found three key brain-behaviour relationships that revealed a continuous spectrum across the cohort rather than discrete diagnostic entities. In the forty-six patients with longitudinal follow up (mean 3.6 years) syndromic overlap increased with time. Together, these results show that syndromes associated with FTLD do not form discrete mutually exclusive categories from their clinical features or structural brain changes, but instead exist in a multidimensional spectrum. Patients often manifest diagnostic features of multiple disorders and deficits in behaviour, movement and language domains are not confined to specific diagnostic groups. It is important to recognise individual differences in clinical phenotype, both for clinical management and to understand pathogenic mechanisms. We suggest that the adoption of a transdiagnostic approach to the spectrum of FTLD syndromes provides a useful framework with which to understand disease progression, heterogeneity and treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2019

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