Background: The semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia (svPPA) is a form of dementia, mainly featuring language impairment, for which the extent of white matter (WM) damage is less described than its associated grey matter (GM) atrophy. Our study aimed to characterise the extent of this damage using a sensitive and unbiased approach.
Methods: We conducted a between-group study comparing 10 patients with a clinical diagnosis of svPPA, recruited between 2011 and 2014 at a tertiary reference centre, with 9 cognitively healthy, age-matched controls. From diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data, we extracted fractional anisotropy (FA) values using a tract-based spatial statistics approach. We further obtained GM volumetric data using the Freesurfer automated segmentation tool. We compared both groups using non-parametric Wilcoxon rank-sum tests, correcting for multiple comparisons.
Results: Demographic data showed that patients and controls were comparable. As expected, clinical data showed lower results in svPPA than controls on cognitive screening tests. Tractography showed impaired diffusion in svPPA patients, with FA mostly decreased in the longitudinal, uncinate, cingulum and external capsule fasciculi. Volumetric data show significant atrophy in svPPA patients, mostly in the left entorhinal, amygdala, inferior temporal, middle temporal, superior temporal and temporal pole cortices, and bilateral fusiform gyri.
Conclusions: This syndrome appears to be associated not only with GM but also significant WM degeneration. Thus, DTI could play a role in the differential diagnosis of atypical dementia by specifying WM damage specific to svPPA.
Keywords: Dementia; Diffusion tensor imaging; Fractional anisotropy; Grey matter; Magnetic resonance imaging; Semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia; Tractography; Volumetry; White matter.