University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

Anterior Cingulate, Insular and Frontoinsular Vulnerability in FTLD and AD

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This project seeks to clarify the specific behavioral functions, networks, and neuronal types targeted in frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to progressive changes in emotion and behavior. FTD is distinct from Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which causes gradual loss of memory and posterior cortical functions. While emerging evidence suggests that FTD targets anterior brain regions, including the anterior cingulate (ACC), anterior insula (AI) and frontoinsula (FI), little more is known about FTD selectivity. The funded project seeks to address this deficiency by: 1. Evaluating the emotional components of pain processing in patients with FTD and AD, and relating deficits to damage in the ACC-AI-FI network, 2. Assessing the connectivity of the ACC-AI-FI network in patients with FTLD and AD using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 3. Comparing the relative damage to two neuronal populations—the von Economo neurons (unique to the ACC-AI-FI network) and pyramidal neurons (found throughout the brain) in autopsy specimens from patients with FTD and AD. The knowledge gained from these experiments may help direct FTD research toward the central features of the disease and provide a new window into FTD pathogenesis, ultimately leading to novel treatment approaches.