Impaired semantic knowledge is a characteristic feature of some forms of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), particularly the sporadic disorder semantic dementia. Less is known about semantic cognition in the genetic forms of FTD caused by mutations in the genes MAPT, C9orf72, and GRN. We developed a modified version of the Camel and Cactus Test (mCCT) to investigate the presence of semantic difficulties in a large genetic FTD cohort from the Genetic FTD Initiative (GENFI) study. Six-hundred-forty-four participants were tested with the mCCT including 67 MAPT mutation carriers (15 symptomatic, and 52 in the presymptomatic period), 165 GRN mutation carriers (33 symptomatic, 132 presymptomatic), and 164 C9orf72 mutation carriers (56 symptomatic, 108 presymptomatic) and 248 mutation-negative members of FTD families who acted as a control group. The presymptomatic mutation carriers were further split into those early and late in the presymptomatic period (more than vs. within 10 years of expected symptom onset). Groups were compared using a linear regression model, adjusting for age and education, with bootstrapping. Performance on the mCCT had a weak negative correlation with age (rho = -0.20) and a weak positive correlation with education (rho = 0.13), with an overall abnormal score (below the 5th percentile of the control population) being below 27 out of a total of 32. All three of the symptomatic mutation groups scored significantly lower than controls: MAPT mean 22.3 (standard deviation 8.0), GRN 24.4 (7.2), C9orf72 23.6 (6.5) and controls 30.2 (1.6). However, in the presymptomatic groups, only the late MAPT and late C9orf72 mutation groups scored lower than controls (28.8 (2.2) and 28.9 (2.5) respectively). Performance on the mCCT correlated strongly with temporal lobe volume in the symptomatic MAPT mutation group (rho > 0.80). In the C9orf72 group, mCCT score correlated with both bilateral temporal lobe volume (rho > 0.31) and bilateral frontal lobe volume (rho > 0.29), whilst in the GRN group mCCT score correlated only with left frontal lobe volume (rho = 0.48). This study provides evidence for presymptomatic impaired semantic knowledge in genetic FTD. The different neuroanatomical associations of the mCCT score may represent distinct cognitive processes causing deficits in different groups: loss of core semantic knowledge associated with temporal lobe atrophy (particularly in the MAPT group), and impaired executive control of semantic information associated with frontal lobe atrophy. Further studies will be helpful to address the longitudinal change in mCCT performance and the exact time at which presymptomatic impairment occurs.
Keywords: C9orf72; MAPT; frontotemporal dementia; genetics; progranulin; semantic knowledge.