Here we outline the main findings from two recent FTD center publications. Learn more about our research in easy to digest terms!


Occupation is Associated with Survival in Frontotemporal Degeneration

Adapted from “Occupational attainment influences survival in autopsy-confirmed frontotemporal degeneration”, Massimo et al., 2015.

What we know: Previous studies have shown that individuals with more intellectually challenging occupations may be protected from brain decay caused by neurodegenerative diseases. This resistance to degeneration due to cognitive life experiences – such as a person’s education, occupation, and leisure activities – is called cognitive reserve.

What we didn’t know: We cannot assume that reduced neuronal atrophy due to cognitive reserve necessarily prolongs life. Therefore this study tests whether higher cognitive reserve is also associated with increased survival in individuals’s with frontotemporal degeneration.

What this study shows: In patients with frontotemporal degeneration, those who worked in more intellectually challenging occupations were shown to live longer from the time of symptom onset.

What we can do in the future because of this study: This study examines how cognitive reserve affects the end of life. The next step is to look at how cognitive reserve relates to symptom onset. It is possible that neurodegenerative disease is harder to detect in those individuals with higher cognitive reserve because they remain high functioning for a longer period of time. Alternatively, people with high cognitive reserve might be more sensitive to declines in their cognitive performance, and quicker to seek help from their doctor. If so, detection of disease might be earlier.

Why should you care? Cognitive reserve shows us that there isn’t one definite path to neurodegenerative disease. Many lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors can influence a disease’s severity and progression. Studies like this one show that challenging yourself in everyday life, whether through your work or leisure, might help protect from impairments that come with neurodegenerative disease.

Learn more: This study also discusses Alzheimer’s disease and the effects of education. To read more, please visit:

http://ftd.med.upenn.edu/for-researchers/publications/2015/05/27/occupational-attainment-influences-survival-in-autopsy-confirmed-frontotemporal-degeneration


How Our Brains Form Concepts

Adapted from “Converging Evidence for the Neuroanatomic Basis of Combinatorial Semantics in the Angular Gyrus”, Price et al., 2015.

What we know: Humans are able to represent individual concepts and combine them into more complex concepts. For example, the concepts “plaid” and “jacket” can be represented independently, or integrated into a more complex representation: a plaid jacket.

What we didn’t know: While previous research has examined how individual concepts are represented in the human brain, it wasn’t understood how these concepts are integrated and what brain regions are involved. In this study, researchers used structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (techniques used to take “snapshots” of the brain while a person lies in a scanner) to determine what brain regions are necessary for performance on a conceptual combination task.

What this study shows: The angular gyrus is a critical region in the brain that supports the process of conceptual combination. This is true in both healthy adults and individuals with neurodegenerative disease. These findings are consistent with the fact that the angular gyrus “talks to” to other connected brain areas, integrating information from language, sensory, and motor regions of the brain. These connections may allow individuals to build associations between different features and concepts.

What we can do in the future because of this study: The next step is to examine other factors, like grammatical category (e.g. noun versus adjective) or type of input (e.g. word versus picture), that may affect an individual’s ability to form meaningful concepts.

Why should you care? By learning more about the brain basis of conceptual combination, we may be able to develop new ways to improve this ability in patients with dementia who struggle with understanding word meanings.

Learn more: To read more about this study, please visit:

http://ftd.med.upenn.edu/for-researchers/publications/2015/04/01/converging-evidence-for-the-neuroanatomic-basis-of-combinatorial-semantics-in-the-angular-gyrus

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