Progression of language decline and cortical atrophy in subtypes of primary progressive aphasia

Neurology. 2011 May 24;76(21):1804-10. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31821ccd3c.


Objectives: To examine the longitudinal course of primary progressive aphasia (PPA) over a 2-year period and to offer quantitative ranges of expected change that could be used to guide the design and evaluation of therapeutic intervention trials.

Methods: Regional changes of cortical thickness and whole-brain cortical volume loss as well as neuropsychological language performance were assessed at baseline and 2 years later in 13 rigorously characterized patients who fulfilled research criteria for logopenic, agrammatic, and semantic PPA subtypes (6 PPA-L, 3 PPA-G, and 4 PPA-S).

Results: There was substantial progression of clinical deficits and cortical atrophy over 2 years. Neuropsychological language performance patterns lost the sharp distinctions that differentiated one PPA variant from another. Nonetheless, the subtype-specific differential impairment of word comprehension vs grammatical processing was largely maintained. Peak atrophy sites spread beyond the initial distinctive locations that characterized each of the 3 subtypes and displayed a more convergent distribution encompassing all 3 major components of the language network: the inferior frontal gyrus, the temporoparietal junction, and lateral temporal cortex. Despite the progression, overall peak atrophy remained lateralized to the left hemisphere.

Conclusions: The results suggest that the unique features, which sharply differentiate the PPA variants at the early to middle stages, may lose their distinctiveness as the degeneration becomes more severe. Given the substantial atrophy over 2 years, PPA clinical trials may require fewer patients and shorter study durations than Alzheimer disease trials to detect significant therapeutic effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aphasia, Primary Progressive / complications*
  • Aphasia, Primary Progressive / pathology*
  • Aphasia, Primary Progressive / physiopathology*
  • Aphasia, Primary Progressive / therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Progression*
  • Humans
  • Language Disorders / etiology*
  • Language Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Language Disorders / therapy
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance