Brain region implicated in emotional disturbance in dementia patients

July 12, 2013

A study by researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) is the first to demonstrate that patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) lose the emotional content/colour of their memories. These findings explain why FTD patients may not vividly remember an emotionally charged event like a wedding or funeral.

The research team discovered that a region of the brain, called the orbitofrontal cortex, plays a key role in linking emotion and memories.

"This step forward in the mapping of the brain will improve how we diagnose different types of dementia," says the study's lead author, Associate Professor Olivier Piguet.

The fact that we vividly remember events infused with emotion - like birthday parties - is well established. Patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) - a degenerative condition that affects the frontal and of the brain - show profound difficulty understanding and expressing emotion. Yet the extent to which such deficits weaken emotional enhancement of memory remains unknown.

To find out, the NeuRA team showed patients images that prompt an emotional reaction in healthy people. Healthy control subjects and patients with Alzheimer's disease remembered more emotional than neutral images. The FTD patients, however, did not.

Professor Piguet says, "Up until now, we knew that emotional memories were supported by the amygdala, a brain region also involved with . This study is the first to demonstrate the involvement of the in this process. This is an important development in how we understand the relations between emotions and memory and the disturbance of the emotional system in this type of dementia."

NeuRA researcher, Fiona Kumfor, says the findings will help carers better understand why their loved ones may find difficult. "Imagine if you attended the wedding of your daughter, or met your grandchild for the first time, but this event was as memorable as doing the groceries. We have discovered that this is what life is like for patients with FTD," says Fiona.

"This is the first study that has looked at memory and emotion together in FTD and that is exciting. We now have new insight into the disease and can demonstrate that are affected differently, depending on the type of dementia.

This information could help us create diagnostic tools and change how we diagnose certain types of dementias and differentiate between them. We have basically found the source of the deficit driving these impairments in patients, which brings us a step closer to understanding what it means to have FTD," she concluded.

Explore further: Recognition of anger, fear, disgust most affected in dementia

More information: The paper 'The Orbitofrontal Cortex is involved in Emotional Enhancement of Memory' has been published in the journal Brain.

Related Stories

The implications of disease coexistence

November 29, 2011

In order to better counsel patients, it is key for clinicians of different disciplines to be aware of, and diagnose, the 'overlap syndrome' between two medical disorders - ALS and FTD - since it significantly affects patient ...

Recommended for you

Closing the loop with optogenetics

August 28, 2015

An engineering example of closed-loop control is a simple thermostat used to maintain a steady temperature in the home. Without it, heating or air conditioning would run without reacting to changes in outside conditions, ...

Self-control saps memory, study says

August 26, 2015

You're driving on a busy road and you intend to switch lanes when you suddenly realize that there's a car in your blind spot. You have to put a stop to your lane change—and quickly.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.