Are there differences between FTD alone and FTD-MND?

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The last of our FTD awareness week blog posts is focussing on a healthcare project looking into FTD (frontotemporal dementia) and FTD-MND (FTD when combined with MND). The project began last year and is being part-funded by us.

Jennie Adams
Jennie Adams

Professor Julie Snowden and PhD student Jennie Adams at the Cerebral Function Unit in Salford (University of Manchester) are looking into the behavioural and cognitive aspects of FTD and FTD-MND.

They are aiming to work out if there are any differences in thinking or behaviour between people who have MND-FTD and those who have FTD on its own.

For example this could be looking to see if people with FTD-MND tend to show more difficulties with language, but not have many changes relating to behaviour. Or if people with ‘pure’ FTD show more difficulties with appropriate behaviour in public, compared to organisation and planning skills.

More information on the symptoms of FTD can be found in our first blog for FTD Awareness Week.

Finding the differences between FTD and FTD-MND.

The assumption has been that the characteristics or behavioural signs of FTD-MND are indistinguishable from those who have ‘pure’ FTD.

However it has been found that there are differences in behaviour and cognition between people with the different forms of FTD.

Prof Julie Snowden
Prof Julie Snowden

Like MND, FTD is not a really nice neat disorder at all – it is very variable clinically, pathologically and genetically “, explained Professor Snowden.

Compared to those with ‘pure’ FTD, people who have FTD-MND tend to show greater difficulties with language and executive skills, such as making decisions and planning ahead.

Those who have FTD alone tend to have more difficulties with emotional understanding, and social behaviour, such as recognising what is appropriate to say or do in certain situations.

Initial work from this project was presented by Prof Snowden at the International Symposium on ALS/MND last year.

Testing the ‘difference between conditions’ theory out

As part of Jennie Adams’ PhD project, 20 people diagnosed with FTD-MND, 40 people with FTD alone, and 40 people with no form of dementia or cognitive impairment will perform a series of short cognitive tasks.

These tasks will test skills thought to depend on actions and processes known to be controlled by the frontal and temporal lobes in the brain.The frontal lobe is underneath your forehead and the temporal lobes are on the both sides of the brain (roughly above your ears).

The cognitive tasks will test things including a person’s ability to recognise emotions, draw inferences about the thoughts of others, their ability to concentrate, organise actions and understand language.

More information on cognitive tests can be found on our pyramids and palm trees blog post from last year.

Comparison of the results between and within the groups of participants will help reveal more about the differences between FTD and FTD-MND.

Why is this research important?

Working out the behavioural differences between FTD and those with FTD-MND may help with identifying those with FTD who are at risk of developing MND.

At the moment it is difficult to predict this because it is hard to know which gene or protein is primarily responsible for causing each condition. This is because there is no test (for example through using biomarkers) to see which specific protein is involved in causing FTD (such as TDP-43 or Tau).

Prof Snowden said “In the long-term the results from this project may lead to improved care and targeted treatments for anyone with FTD.”

Want to read more about research we are funding looking into FTD-MND genetics?

More on the causes and brain/pathological signs of FTD or FTD-MND can be found in our blog on Dr Ansorge and Prof Talbot’s research.