Unawareness of deficits in Alzheimer's disease: role of the cingulate cortex.

Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Via Verdi 10, 10123 Turin, Italy.
Brain (Impact Factor: 10.23). 03/2011; 134(Pt 4):1061-76. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awr020
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Unawareness of deficits is a symptom of Alzheimer's disease that can be observed even in the early stages of the disease. The frontal hypoperfusion associated with reduced awareness of deficits has led to suggestions of the existence of a hypofunctioning prefrontal pathway involving the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal lobe, anterior cingulate gyri and limbic structures. Since this network plays an important role in response inhibition competence and patients with Alzheimer's disease who are unaware of their deficits exhibit impaired performance in response inhibition tasks, we predicted a relationship between unawareness of deficits and cingulate hypofunctionality. We tested this hypothesis in a sample of 29 patients with Alzheimer's disease (15 aware and 14 unaware of their disturbances), rating unawareness according to the Awareness of Deficit Questionnaire-Dementia scale. The cognitive domain was investigated by means of a wide battery including tests on executive functioning, memory and language. Neuropsychiatric aspects were investigated using batteries on behavioural mood changes, such as apathy and disinhibition. Cingulate functionality was assessed with functional magnetic resonance imaging, while patients performed a go/no-go task. In accordance with our hypotheses, unaware patients showed reduced task-sensitive activity in the right anterior cingulate area (Brodmann area 24) and in the rostral prefrontal cortex (Brodmann area 10). Unaware patients also showed reduced activity in the right post-central gyrus (Brodmann area 2), in the associative cortical areas such as the right parietotemporal-occipital junction (Brodmann area 39) and the left temporal gyrus (Brodmann areas 21 and 38), in the striatum and in the cerebellum. These findings suggest that the unawareness of deficits in early Alzheimer's disease is associated with reduced functional recruitment of the cingulofrontal and parietotemporal regions. Furthermore, in line with previous findings, we also found apathy and disinhibition to be prominent features of the first behavioural changes in unaware patients.

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