Motor neuron dysfunction in frontotemporal dementia

Brain. 2011 Sep;134(Pt 9):2582-94. doi: 10.1093/brain/awr195. Epub 2011 Aug 11.


Frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease share clinical, genetic and pathological characteristics. Motor neuron disease develops in a proportion of patients with frontotemporal dementia, but the incidence, severity and functional significance of motor system dysfunction in patients with frontotemporal dementia has not been determined. Neurophysiological biomarkers have been developed to document motor system dysfunction including: short-interval intracortical inhibition, a marker of corticospinal motor neuron dysfunction and the neurophysiological index, a marker of lower motor neuron dysfunction. The present study performed detailed clinical and neurophysiological assessments on 108 participants including 40 consecutive patients with frontotemporal dementia, 42 age- and gender-matched patients with motor neuron disease and 26 control subjects. Of the 40 patients with frontotemporal dementia, 12.5% had concomitant motor neuron disease. A further 27.3% of the patients with frontotemporal dementia had clinical evidence of minor motor system dysfunction such as occasional fasciculations, mild wasting or weakness. Biomarkers of motor system function were abnormal in frontotemporal dementia. Average short-interval intracortical inhibition was reduced in frontotemporal dementia (4.3 ± 1.7%) compared with controls (9.1 ± 1.1%, P < 0.05). Short-interval intracortical inhibition was particularly reduced in the progressive non-fluent aphasia subgroup, but was normal in patients with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia and semantic dementia. The neurophysiological index was reduced in frontotemporal dementia (1.1) compared with controls (1.9, P < 0.001), indicating a degree of lower motor neuron dysfunction, although remained relatively preserved when compared with motor neuron disease (0.7, P < 0.05). Motor system dysfunction in frontotemporal dementia may result from pathological involvement of the primary motor cortex, with secondary degeneration of lower motor neurons in the brainstem and anterior horn of the spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / pathology
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neuron Disease / pathology
  • Motor Neuron Disease / physiopathology*
  • Motor Neurons / pathology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation


  • Biomarkers