October 1997

Bilateral Temporal Lobe Volume Reduction Parallels Cognitive Impairment in Progressive Aphasia

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Family Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Huddinge University Hospital, Huddinge, Sweden.

Arch Neurol. 1997;54(10):1294-1299. doi:10.1001/archneur.1997.00550220092020

Background:  Patients with isolated aphasia in the absence of other cognitive abnormalities have been the focus of several studies during the past decade. It has been called primary progressive aphasia (PPA), and the typical features of this syndrome are marked atrophy of the left temporal lobe according to the radiological examination and a language disorder as the initial symptom. In previous studies of PPA, the selection of the patients was based mainly on linguistic symptoms. Now, when computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging scans are part of the routine investigation of cognitive impairment and suspected dementia, the patients with lobar atrophy will be found at an earlier stage. In the present study, we used a new approach and defined the study group by selecting patients with obvious left temporal lobe atrophy, assessed by MRI, and we referred to them as patients with temporal lobe atrophy (TLA).

Objective:  To identify the features that distinguish TLA from other primary neurodegenerative disorders.

Patients:  Six patients with TLA were compared with patients with Alzheimer disease (AD), patients with frontal lobe dementia (FLD), and healthy control subjects.

Methods:  The investigations included magnetic resonance imaging volumetry, single photon emission computed tomography, and neuropsychologic and linguistic evaluations.

Results:  In the TLA group, the mean volume of the left temporal lobe was 35% smaller than the right, while in the AD and FLD groups, the atrophy was symmetrical and bilateral. In the TLA group, the absolute volumes of the temporal lobes were significantly smaller on the left side compared with the AD and FLD groups, whereas there was no difference on the right side. The cerebral blood flow pattern in TLA was asymmetric and differed from that in the other study groups. All patients with TLA had a history of progressive Wernicke-type aphasia, ranging from 2 to 6 years. They showed primary verbal memory impairment but had preserved visuo-spatial functions. The clinical condition of all patients with TLA deteriorated during the study period; severe aphasia developed, and the patients exhibited signs of frontal lobe dysfunction. Serial volumetric measurements in 4 of 6 patients showed an annual 8% to 9% decrease of both left and right temporal lobes.

Conclusions:  The initial marked asymmetry in cognitive function found in patients with TLA contrasts with the general decline found in patients with AD. The bilateral degenerative process evident in patients with TLA paralleled the clinical deterioration, indicating TLA to be a non-AD lobar atrophy that develops into generalized cognitive dysfunction and dementia.