Assessing processing speed and its neural correlates in the three variants of primary progressive aphasia with a non-verbal tablet-based task

Cortex. 2024 Feb:171:165-177. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2023.10.011. Epub 2023 Nov 2.


Prior research has revealed distinctive patterns of impaired language abilities across the three variants of Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA): nonfluent/agrammatic (nfvPPA), logopenic (lvPPA) and semantic (svPPA). However, little is known about whether, and to what extent, non-verbal cognitive abilities, such as processing speed, are impacted in PPA patients. This is because neuropsychological tests typically contain linguistic stimuli and require spoken output, being therefore sensitive to verbal deficits in aphasic patients. The aim of this study is to investigate potential differences in processing speed between PPA patients and healthy controls, and among the three PPA variants, using a brief non-verbal tablet-based task (Match) modeled after the WAIS-III digit symbol coding test, and to determine its neural correlates. Here, we compared performance on the Match task between PPA patients (n = 61) and healthy controls (n = 59) and across the three PPA variants. We correlated performance on Match with voxelwise gray and white matter volumes. We found that lvPPA and nfvPPA patients performed significantly worse on Match than healthy controls and svPPA patients. Worse performance on Match across PPA patients was associated with reduced gray matter volume in specific parts of the left middle frontal gyrus, superior parietal lobule, and precuneus, and reduced white matter volume in the left parietal lobe. To conclude, our behavioral findings reveal that processing speed is differentially impacted across the three PPA variants and provide support for the potential clinical utility of a tabled-based task (Match) to assess non-verbal cognition. In addition, our neuroimaging findings confirm the importance of a set of fronto-parietal regions that previous research has associated with processing speed and executive control. Finally, our behavioral and neuroimaging findings combined indicate that differences in processing speed are largely explained by the unequal distribution of atrophy in these fronto-parietal regions across the three PPA variants.

Keywords: Digital assessment; Fronto-parietal regions; Primary progressive aphasia; Processing speed.

MeSH terms

  • Aphasia, Primary Progressive* / diagnostic imaging
  • Aphasia, Primary Progressive* / psychology
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Processing Speed