Journal of Neurology

, Volume 260, Issue 10, pp 2481–2490 | Cite as

Behavioural and emotional symptoms of apathy are associated with distinct patterns of brain atrophy in neurodegenerative disorders

  • Biba R. Stanton
  • P. Nigel Leigh
  • Robert J. Howard
  • Gareth J. Barker
  • Richard G. BrownEmail author
Original Communication


Apathy is a neurocognitive syndrome of reduced goal-directed behaviour and is an important cause of disability in neurodegenerative disorders. Frontal–subcortical dysfunction is thought to be important in apathy, but the contribution of individual brain regions to different aspects of the apathy syndrome is poorly understood. We aimed to test the hypotheses that apathy in two distinct neurodegenerative disorders would be associated with frontal lobe atrophy and that reduced initiative and emotional blunting would be associated with distinct patterns of atrophy in functionally relevant brain areas. Seventeen patients with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and 17 patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) underwent structural MRI scanning at 3 T to provide data for voxel based morphometric analysis. Apathy was defined using Robert’s 2009 diagnostic criteria and specific symptoms were assessed with the Apathy Inventory. Patients with and without apathy were matched for important demographic and clinical characteristics. Apathy was associated with atrophy of the ventromedial orbitofrontal cortex and left insula in both AD and PSP. Reduced initiative was specifically associated with atrophy of the anterior cingulate and ventrolateral orbitofrontal cortex whilst emotional blunting was specifically associated with atrophy of the left insula. These findings provide further support for the role of medial frontal regions and insular cortex in apathy and suggest that behavioural and emotional aspects of the apathy syndrome may have distinct neuroanatomical bases.


Apathy Structural MRI Voxel based morphometry Progressive supranuclear palsy Alzheimer’s disease 



The study was supported by the Medical Research Council through a Clinical Research Training Fellowship (G0500443) (BS). Author RB receives salary support from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Mental Health Biomedical Research Centre and Dementia Biomedical Research Unit at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Conflicts of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Biba R. Stanton
    • 1
  • P. Nigel Leigh
    • 2
  • Robert J. Howard
    • 3
  • Gareth J. Barker
    • 4
  • Richard G. Brown
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of NeurologyRoyal Free London NHS Foundation TrustLondonUK
  2. 2.Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Trafford Centre for Biomedical ResearchUniversity of SussexEast SussexUK
  3. 3.Department of Old Age Psychiatry, Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Department of Neuroimaging, Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  5. 5.Department of Psychology, Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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