Evidence of Social Understanding Impairment in Patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Marco Cavallo, Mauro Adenzato, Sarah E. MacPherson, Gillian Karwig, Ivan Enrici, Sharon Abrahams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The present study aims at clarifying the nature of the Theory of Mind (ToM) deficits associated with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). ToM is the ability to attribute mental states such as intentions and beliefs to others in order to understand and predict their behaviour and to behave accordingly. Several neuroimaging studies reported the prefrontal cortices as the brain region underlying a key ToM ability, i.e. the comprehension of social intentions. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortices in patients with ALS has been indicated by a range of neuroimaging studies. The frontal syndrome that appears to characterize up to 50% of ALS has been noted to be similar to the profile that characterizes patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a neurodegenerative condition characterised by ToM deficits. In the present paper, we hypothesize that the performance of patients with ALS is significantly worse than healthy controls' performance on tasks requiring the comprehension of social contexts, whereas patients' performance is comparable to healthy controls' performance on tasks not requiring the comprehension of social contexts. To this end, we tested 15 patients with ALS with an experimental protocol that distinguishes between private (non-social) intentions and social intentions. The pattern of results followed the experimental hypothesis: the performance of patients with ALS and healthy controls significantly differed on the comprehension of social context only, with an impairment in patients with ALS. Single case analysis confirmed the findings at an individual level. The present study is the first which has examined and compared the understanding of social and non-social contexts in patients with ALS and shown a specific and selective deficit in the former only. The current findings further support the notion of a continuum of cognitive dysfunction ranging from ALS to FTD, with parallel cognitive profiles in both disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25948
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume6
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2011

Keywords

  • MOTOR-NEURON DISEASE
  • FRONTOTEMPORAL LOBAR DEGENERATION
  • EPWORTH SLEEPINESS SCALE
  • ASPERGER-SYNDROME
  • COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT
  • COMPUTED-TOMOGRAPHY
  • SCORE DIFFERENCES
  • NORMAL ADULTS
  • DEMENTIA
  • MIND

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