Objective: The frontal variant of frontotemporal degeneration (fvFTD) is characterized by a predominant behavioral syndrome, which is mostly attributable to an orbital-medial prefrontal dysfunction. The orbital and ventral medial prefrontal functions in humans are difficult to assess in clinical practice. Here, we propose a new tool, the SEA (Social cognition and Emotional Assessment), for use in evaluating the functions of the orbital and ventral-medial portions of the prefrontal cortex.
Method: The SEA is composed of five subtests, each assessing a specific orbitofrontal-related function: a test of identification of facial emotions, a reversal/extinction task, a behavioral control task, a theory of mind test, and an apathy scale. The maximum score is 55. Three groups have been tested: 22 fvFTD patients, 22 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) or amnesic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), and 30 healthy control subjects, all matched for age and educational level.
Results: FvFTD patients showed significantly lower performances in all subtests of the SEA. A cut-off score of 39.4/55 was proposed to separate normal controls from fvFTD patients, with a maximum sensitivity and specificity of 100%. A very high specificity (88.5%) was obtained using the same cut-off with AD/aMCI patients and normal controls versus fvFTD patients. FvFTD patients' performance in the SEA did not correlate with any other neuropsychological scores, particularly the classical cognitive executive tests.
Conclusions: The SEA is a new and useful tool for diagnosing fvFTD and, more generally, all of the diseases affecting the orbital and medial prefrontal functions.