Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis-Frontotemporal Dementia: Shared and Divergent Neural Correlates Across the Clinical Spectrum

Background and Objectives

A significant overlap between amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) has been observed at clinical, genetic, and pathologic levels. Within this continuum of presentations, the presence of mild cognitive or behavioral symptoms in patients with ALS has been consistently reported, although it is unclear whether this is to be considered a distinct phenotype or rather a natural evolution of ALS. Here, we used mathematical modeling of MRI connectomic data to decipher common and divergent neural correlates across the ALS–frontotemporal dementia (FTD) spectrum.

Methods

We included 83 patients with ALS, 35 patients with bvFTD, and 61 healthy controls, who underwent clinical, cognitive, and MRI assessments. Patients with ALS were classified according to the revised Strong criteria into 54 ALS with only motor deficits (ALS-cn), 21 ALS with cognitive or behavioral involvement (ALS-ci/bi), and 8 ALS with bvFTD (ALS-FTD). First, we assessed the functional and structural connectivity patterns across the ALS-FTD spectrum. Second, we investigated whether and where MRI connectivity alterations of patients with ALS with any degree of cognitive impairment (i.e., ALS-ci/bi and ALS-FTD) resembled more the pattern of damage of one (ALS-cn) or the other end (bvFTD) of the spectrum, moving from group-level to single-subject analysis.

Results

As compared with controls, extensive structural and functional disruption of the frontotemporal and parietal networks characterized bvFTD (bvFTD-like pattern), while a more focal structural damage within the sensorimotor-basal ganglia areas characterized ALS-cn (ALS-cn-like pattern). ALS-ci/bi patients demonstrated an ALS-cn-like pattern of structural damage, diverging from ALS-cn with similar motor impairment for the presence of enhanced functional connectivity within sensorimotor areas and decreased functional connectivity within the bvFTD-like pattern. On the other hand, patients with ALS-FTD resembled both structurally and functionally the bvFTD-like pattern of damage with, in addition, the structural ALS-cn-like damage in the motor areas.

Discussion

Our findings suggest a maladaptive role of functional rearrangements in ALS-ci/bi concomitantly with similar structural alterations compared to ALS-cn, supporting the hypothesis that ALS-ci/bi might be considered as a phenotypic variant of ALS, rather than a consequence of disease worsening.

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