Cerebral blood flow patterns underlying the differential impairment in category vs letter fluency in Alzheimer’s disease.

Verbal fluency tasks are used to assess language functioning in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and performance typically declines as the disease progresses. However, several studies have shown that Category Fluency performance (produce words from a category) declines faster than Letter Fluency performance (produce words beginning with a certain letter), which is not the case for other dementias. The purpose of this study was to determine if each of these two types of fluency tasks was associated with different patterns of cerebral blood flow abnormality in AD.

A resting, Xenon-inhalation regional cerebral blood flow measurement (133Xe rCBF) and neuropsychological evaluation was administered to 25 patients with probable AD and 24 healthy elderly controls. Stepwise regression using rCBF measures as predictor variables was used to predict Category and Letter Fluency performance, in both a combined group of patients and controls, and in the patient group alone. Correlations were also computed between rCBF variables and the difference between normatively corrected scores on each task for each subject, which characterized the extent of the discrepancy between them.

In full sample regressions, both Category and Letter Fluency were predicted by education and the decline in left inferior parietal flow, a focal AD-related deficit. Additional variance in Category fluency, however, was predicted by global mean flow, while additional variance in Letter Fluency was predicted by frontal flow. Within the patient sample, in turn, the primary predictor of Category Fluency was mean flow; the primary predictor of Letter Fluency was left-sided frontal flow. Analysis of the fluency difference score revealed that relatively greater impairment of Category Fluency was associated with more typical, AD-related deficits in posterior temporal and parietal perfusion. When the two were equivalently impaired, typical AD-related deficits were accompanied by marked deficits in frontal perfusion.

These findings are consistent with the underlying neuropsychology of these tasks, and suggest that Category Fluency’s stronger association to the most typical CBF deficits of AD account for its greater sensitivity to this disease. Letter Fluency deficits, on the other hand, carry significant information about the degree to which perfusion deficits have spread to frontal cortex.

Source: Neuropsychologia 1999 Oct;37(11):1251-61

PMID: 10530725, UI: 99458308

(Department of Brain Imaging, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, USA. johnkeil@neuron.cpmc.columbia.edu)

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