Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) has only recently been associated with significant striatal atrophy, whereas the striatum appears to be relatively preserved in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Considering the critical role the striatum has in cognition and behavior, striatal degeneration, together with frontal atrophy, could be responsible of some characteristic symptoms in bvFTD and emerges therefore as promising novel diagnostic biomarker to distinguish bvFTD and AD. Previous studies have, however, only taken either cortical or striatal atrophy into account when comparing the two diseases. In this study, we establish for the first time a profile of fronto-striatal atrophy in 23 bvFTD and 29 AD patients at presentation, based on the structural connectivity of striatal and cortical regions. Patients are compared to 50 healthy controls by using a novel probabilistic connectivity atlas, which defines striatal regions by their cortical white-matter connectivity, allowing us to explore the degeneration of the frontal and striatal regions that are functionally linked. Comparisons with controls revealed that bvFTD showed substantial fronto-striatal atrophy affecting the ventral as well as anterior and posterior dorso-lateral prefrontal cortices and the related striatal subregions. In contrast, AD showed few fronto-striatal atrophy, despite having significant posterior dorso-lateral prefrontal degeneration. Direct comparison between bvFTD and AD revealed significantly more atrophy in the ventral striatal-ventromedial prefrontal cortex regions in bvFTD. Consequently, deficits in ventral fronto-striatal regions emerge as promising novel and efficient diagnosis biomarker for bvFTD. Future investigations into the contributions of these fronto-striatal loops on bvFTD symptomology are needed to develop simple diagnostic and disease tracking algorithms.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; fronto-striatal circuits; frontotemporal dementia; striatum; ventromedial prefrontal cortex.