Single-word comprehension deficits in the nonfluent variant of primary progressive aphasia

Jolien Schaeverbeke, Silvy Gabel, Karen Meersmans, Rose Bruffaerts, Antonietta Gabriella Liuzzi, Charlotte Evenepoel, Eva Dries, Karen van Bouwel, Anne Sieben, Yolande Pijnenburg, Ronald Peeters, Guy Bormans, Koen van Laere, Michel Koole, Patrick Dupont, Rik Vandenberghe

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Background: A subset of patients with the nonfluent variant of primary progressive aphasia (PPA) exhibit concomitant single-word comprehension problems, constituting a 'mixed variant' phenotype. This phenotype is rare and currently not fully characterized. The aim of this study was twofold: to assess the prevalence and nature of single-word comprehension problems in the nonfluent variant and to study multimodal imaging characteristics of atrophy, tau, and amyloid burden associated with this mixed phenotype. Methods: A consecutive memory-clinic recruited series of 20 PPA patients (12 nonfluent, five semantic, and three logopenic variants) were studied on neurolinguistic and neuropsychological domains relative to 64 cognitively intact healthy older control subjects. The neuroimaging battery included high-resolution volumetric magnetic resonance imaging processed with voxel-based morphometry, and positron emission tomography with the tau-tracer [18F]-THK5351 and amyloid-tracer [11C]-Pittsburgh Compound B. Results: Seven out of 12 subjects who had been classified a priori with nonfluent variant PPA showed deficits on conventional single-word comprehension tasks along with speech apraxia and agrammatism, corresponding to a mixed variant phenotype. These mixed variant cases included three females and four males, with a mean age at onset of 65 years (range 44-77 years). Object knowledge and object recognition were additionally affected, although less severely compared with the semantic variant. The mixed variant was characterized by a distributed atrophy pattern in frontal and temporoparietal regions. A more focal pattern of elevated [18F]-THK5351 binding was present in the supplementary motor area, the left premotor cortex, midbrain, and basal ganglia. This pattern was closely similar to that seen in pure nonfluent variant PPA. At the individual patient level, elevated [18F]-THK5351 binding in the supplementary motor area and premotor cortex was present in six out of seven mixed variant cases and in five and four of these cases, respectively, in the thalamus and midbrain. Amyloid biomarker positivity was present in two out of seven mixed variant cases, compared with none of the five pure nonfluent cases. Conclusions: A substantial proportion of PPA patients with speech apraxia and agrammatism also have single-word comprehension deficits. At the neurobiological level, the mixed variant shows a high degree of similarity with the pure nonfluent variant of PPA. Trial registration: EudraCT, 2014-002976-10. Registered on 13-01-2015.
Original languageEnglish
Article number68
JournalAlzheimer's Research and Therapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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