Cortex 2018 10 31;107:188-203. Epub 2017 Aug 31.
Cerebral Function Unit, Greater Manchester Neuroscience Centre, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, Salford, UK.
Semantic dementia, a circumscribed disorder of semantic knowledge, provides a unique model for understanding the neural basis for semantic representation. The study addressed areas of contention: the relative roles of the left and right temporal lobe, the contribution of anterior versus posterior temporal cortex and the status of the anterior temporal lobes as amodal hub. Naming and word comprehension was examined in 41 semantic dementia patients, 31 with left-predominant and 10 right-predominant atrophy. In keeping with expectation, naming and comprehension were significantly poorer in left-predominant patients. Structural magnetic resonance image analysis, using a visual rating scale, showed strong inverse correlations between naming scores and severity of both left anterior and posterior temporal lobe atrophy. By contrast, comprehension performance was more strongly correlated with left posterior temporal atrophy. Analysis of naming errors revealed a correlation between anterior temporal atrophy and associative/functional descriptive responses, implying availability of semantic information. By contrast, 'don't know' responses, indicative of loss of semantic knowledge, were linked to left posterior temporal lobe atrophy. Semantic errors, the hallmark of semantic dementia, were linked to right hemisphere atrophy, especially the right posterior temporal lobe. Matched visual-verbal tasks (famous face and name identification, Pyramids and Palm trees pictures and words, animal knowledge from 3-D models and animal names) administered to nine patients elicited variable correspondence between performance on nonverbal and verbal versions of the task. Marked performance dissociations were demonstrated in some patients: poorer understanding of names/words in left-predominant patients and of faces/pictures/models in right-predominant cases. The findings are compatible with the notion of the anterior temporal lobes as areas of convergence, but are less easily accommodated within the framework of amodal conceptual representation. The data, which reconcile some apparent contradictions in the literature, are discussed in the light of the nature and distribution of degenerative change in semantic dementia.