Cognitive function in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has drawn recent attention. However, the pathogenesis of cognitive dysfunction in patients with ALS remains uncertain. To explore the underlying mechanism for cognitive dysfunction further, we studied 26 patients with ALS (15 male and 11 female; age from 36 to 67 years) by using neuropsychological batteries, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). We also evaluated these patients and an additional 26 age- and sex-matched normal controls using neuropsychological batteries with special attention to the frontal lobe function. On the basis of neuropsychological examination, we classified patients into three groups using cluster analysis. Age, education level and severity were comparable across these subgroups. Neuropathologic examination was subsequently carried out in six patients. Patients in Group 1 and 2 had low scores on all measures compared to patients in Group 3 and normal controls. Patients in Group 1 and 2 had frontal atrophy on MRI and reduced isotope uptake in the frontal region on SPECT, which was more evident in patients in Group 1. On neuropathologic examination, patients in Group 1 showed spongy degeneration and neuronal loss in the frontal lobe. Patients in Group 3 showed no notable pathology in the frontal region. The gradient distribution of the scores for attention and executive function, as well as SPECT findings suggested the presence of a continuum of cognitive disability in patients with ALS corresponding to the pathologic process in the frontal lobe ranging from significant impairment to normality. We, therefore, believe that inattention and executive dysfunction alternatives may evolve in patients with ALS corresponding to the pathologic process in the frontal lobe.