Brain Regions Involved in Arousal and Reward Processing are Associated with Apathy in Alzheimer's Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia

Edward D. Huey*, Seonjoo Lee, Gayathri Cheran, Jordan Grafman, Davangere P. Devanand

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Apathy is a common and problematic symptom of several neurodegenerative illnesses, but its neuroanatomical bases are not understood. Objective: To determine the regions associated with apathy in subjects with mild Alzheimer's disease (AD) using a method that accounts for the significant co-linearity of regional atrophy and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Methods: We identified 57 subjects with mild AD (CDR = 1) and neuropsychiatric symptoms in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) database. We performed a multivariate multiple regression with LASSO regularization on all symptom subscales of the Neuropsychiatric Inventory and the whole-brain ROI volumes calculated from their baseline MRIs with FreeSurfer. We compared our results to those from a previous study using the same method in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and corticobasal syndrome (CBS). Results: Of neuropsychiatric symptoms, apathy showed the most robust neuroanatomical associations in the AD subjects. Atrophy of the following regions were independently associated with apathy: the ventromedial prefrontal cortex; ventrolateral prefrontal cortex; posterior cingulate cortex and adjacent lateral cortex; and the bank of the superior temporal sulcus. These results replicate previous studies using FTD and CBS patients, mostly agree with the previous literature on apathy in AD, and correspond to the Medial and Orbital Prefrontal Cortex networks identified in non-human primates. Conclusion: The current study, previous studies from our laboratory, and the previous literature suggest that impairment of the same brain networks involved in arousal, threat response, and reward processing are associated with apathy in AD and FTD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-558
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Apathy
  • frontotemporal dementia
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • neuropsychiatry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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