The paper reviewed here is ‘Social conceptual impairments in frontotemporal lobar degeneration with right anterior temporal hypometabolism’ by Roland Zahn and colleagues which is freely available here.
I think this is a nice paper because the researchers state clear hypotheses using multiple approaches and these are borne out by the subsequent results. The researchers are teasing out the relationship of a specific part of the temporal lobe – the superior anterior temporal lobe (SATL) to the understanding of social concepts. They have already undertaken research in this area and another paper by the group is reviewed here.
The researchers have included subjects with Frontolobar degeneration (FTLD) as well as corticobasal syndrome (CBS). They demonstrate in their sample set that the former group are more cognitively impaired and this was the reason given for including the corticobasal group as comparators although there is also involvement of the temporal lobe. The researchers hypothesise that the FTLD group will experience impairment in social concepts compared to the CBS group and that there will be differences in the anterior superior temporal lobe between the groups. They also hypothesise that within the FTLD group those with marked involvement of the SATL will also have marked impairment in testing of social concepts. They use structural MRI data as well as PET data on metabolism. The PET data is mapped onto the structural MRI data enabling the researchers to map metabolism to very specific regions. While there are many problems with multiple comparisons in MRI data requiring sophisticated analysis, the researchers have a region of interest resulting from their very specific hypotheses.
The researchers provide evidence that hypometabolism in the SATL is correlated with performance on social concept tasks within the FTLD group. What I found particularly interesting was the association between performance on social concept tasks and behavioural problems in the FTLD group. These associations make it tempting to make the link of SATL metabolism or structural changes secondary to the disease process and behavioural problems mediated through a loss of understanding of social context of these behaviours. This can be thought of as a well circumscribed biological constraint on socially context dependent behaviour and so this research has potentially very interesting implications.
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