Psychiatric symptoms of frontotemporal dementia and subcortical (co-)pathology burden: new insights

Brain. 2023 Jan 5;146(1):307-320. doi: 10.1093/brain/awac043.


Three subtypes of distinct pathological proteins accumulate throughout multiple brain regions and shape the heterogeneous clinical presentation of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Besides the main pathological subtypes, co-occurring pathologies are common in FTLD brain donors. The objective of this study was to investigate how the location and burden of (co-)pathology correlate to early psychiatric and behavioural symptoms of FTLD. Eighty-seven brain donors from The Netherlands Brain Bank cohort (2008-2017) diagnosed with FTLD were included: 46 FTLD-TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (FTLD-TDP), 34 FTLD-tau, and seven FTLD-fused-in-sarcoma (FTLD-FUS). Post-mortem brain tissue was dissected into 20 standard regions and stained for phosphorylated TDP-43, phosphorylated tau, FUS, amyloid-β, and α-synuclein. The burden of each pathological protein in each brain region was assessed with a semi-quantitative score. Clinical records were reviewed for early psychiatric and behavioural symptoms. Whole-brain clinico-pathological partial correlations were calculated (local false discovery rate threshold = 0.01). Elaborating on the results, we validated one finding using a quantitative assessment of TDP-43 pathology in the granular layer of the hippocampus in FTLD-TDP brain donors with (n = 15) and without (n = 15) hallucinations. In subcortical regions, the presence of psychiatric symptoms showed positive correlations with increased hippocampal pathology burden: hallucinations with TDP-43 in the granular layer (R = 0.33), mania with TDP-43 in CA1 (R = 0.35), depression with TDP-43 in CA3 and with parahippocampal tau (R = 0.30 and R = 0.23), and delusions with CA3 tau (R = 0.26) and subicular amyloid-β (R = 0.25). Behavioural disinhibition showed positive correlations with tau burden in the thalamus (R = 0.29) and with both TDP-43 and amyloid-β burden in the subthalamus (R = 0.23 and R = 0.24). In the brainstem, the presence of α-synuclein co-pathology in the substantia nigra correlated with disinhibition (R = 0.24), tau pathology in the substantia nigra correlated with depression (R = 0.25) and in the locus coeruleus with both depression and perseverative/compulsive behaviour (R = 0.26 and R = 0.32). The quantitative assessment of TDP-43 in the granular layer validated the higher burden of TDP-43 pathology in brain donors with hallucinations compared to those without hallucinations (P = 0.007). Our results show that psychiatric symptoms of FTLD are linked to subcortical pathology burden in the hippocampus, and hallucinations are linked to a higher burden of TDP-43 in the granular layer. Co-occurring non-FTLD pathologies in subcortical regions could contribute to configuring the clinical phenotype of FTLD.

Keywords: copathology; frontotemporal dementia; hallucinations; psychiatric symptoms; subcortical.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Frontotemporal Dementia* / pathology
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration* / pathology
  • Hallucinations
  • Humans
  • Pick Disease of the Brain* / pathology
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • tau Proteins

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