Emotional and behavioral symptoms in neurodegenerative disease: a model for studying the neural bases of psychopathology

Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2014:10:581-606. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032813-153653. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


Disruptions in emotional, cognitive, and social behavior are common in neurodegenerative disease and in many forms of psychopathology. Because neurodegenerative diseases have patterns of brain atrophy that are much clearer than those of psychiatric disorders, they may provide a window into the neural bases of common emotional and behavioral symptoms. We discuss five common symptoms that occur in both neurodegenerative disease and psychopathology (i.e., anxiety, dysphoric mood, apathy, disinhibition, and euphoric mood) and their associated neural circuitry. We focus on two neurodegenerative diseases (i.e., Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal dementia) that are common and well characterized in terms of emotion, cognition, and social behavior and in patterns of associated atrophy. Neurodegenerative diseases provide a powerful model system for studying the neural correlates of psychopathological symptoms; this is supported by evidence indicating convergence with psychiatric syndromes (e.g., symptoms of disinhibition associated with dysfunction in orbitofrontal cortex in both frontotemporal dementia and bipolar disorder). We conclude that neurodegenerative diseases can play an important role in future approaches to the assessment, prevention, and treatment of mental illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / pathology
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Anxiety / pathology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Apathy
  • Atrophy
  • Behavioral Symptoms / pathology
  • Behavioral Symptoms / psychology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Depression / pathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Euphoria
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / pathology
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / psychology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mental Disorders / pathology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*
  • Social Behavior