Hippocampal atrophy and intrinsic brain network dysfunction relate to alterations in mind wandering in neurodegeneration

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Feb 19;116(8):3316-3321. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1818523116. Epub 2019 Feb 4.


Mind wandering represents the human capacity for internally focused thought and relies upon the brain's default network and its interactions with attentional networks. Studies have characterized mind wandering in healthy people, yet there is limited understanding of how this capacity is affected in clinical populations. This paper used a validated thought-sampling task to probe mind wandering capacity in two neurodegenerative disorders: behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia [(bvFTD); n = 35] and Alzheimer's disease [(AD); n = 24], compared with older controls (n = 37). These patient groups were selected due to canonical structural and functional changes across sites of the default and frontoparietal networks and well-defined impairments in cognitive processes that support mind wandering. Relative to the controls, bvFTD patients displayed significantly reduced mind wandering capacity, offset by a significant increase in stimulus-bound thought. In contrast, AD patients demonstrated comparable levels of mind wandering to controls, in the context of a relatively subtle shift toward stimulus-/task-related forms of thought. In the patient groups, mind wandering was associated with gray matter integrity in the hippocampus/parahippocampus, striatum, insula, and orbitofrontal cortex. Resting-state functional connectivity revealed associations between mind wandering capacity and connectivity within and between regions of the frontoparietal and default networks with distinct patterns evident in patients vs. controls. These findings support a relationship between altered mind wandering capacity in neurodegenerative disorders and structural and functional integrity of the default and frontoparietal networks. This paper highlights a dimension of cognitive dysfunction not well documented in neurodegenerative disorders and validates current models of mind wandering in a clinical population.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia; default mode network; hippocampus; mind wandering.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Atrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Atrophy / physiopathology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / diagnostic imaging
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / physiopathology
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / physiopathology
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Degeneration / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Rest / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology