Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a focal clinical syndrome characterised by profound changes in personality and social conduct and associated with circumscribed degeneration of the prefrontal and anterior temporal cortex. Onset is typically in the middle years of life and survival is about 8 years. The presence of microtubule-associated-protein-tau-based pathological features in some patients and the discovery, in some familial cases, of mutations in the tau gene links FTD to other forms of tauopathy, such as progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration. However, more than half of all patients with FTD, including some with a strong family history, show no apparent abnormality in the tau gene or protein, indicating pathological and aetiological heterogeneity. FTD provides a challenge both for clinical management and for theoretical understanding of its neurobiological substrate.