Social cognition deficits and biometric signatures in the behavioural variant of Alzheimer’s disease

Ellen H. Singleton*, Jay L.P. Fieldhouse, Jochum J. van’t Hooft, Marta Scarioni, Marie Paule E. van Engelen, Sietske A.M. Sikkes, Casper de Boer, Diana I. Bocancea, Esther van den Berg, Philip Scheltens, Wiesje M. van der Flier, Janne M. Papma, Yolande A.L. Pijnenburg, Rik Ossenkoppele*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The behavioural variant of Alzheimer’s disease (bvAD) is characterized by early predominant behavioural changes, mimicking the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), which is characterized by social cognition deficits and altered biometric responses to socioemotional cues. These functions remain understudied in bvAD. We investigated multiple social cognition components (i.e. emotion recognition, empathy, social norms and moral reasoning), using the Ekman 60 faces test, Interpersonal Reactivity Index, empathy eliciting videos, Social Norms Questionnaire and moral dilemmas, while measuring eye movements and galvanic skin response. We compared 12 patients with bvAD with patients with bvFTD (n = 14), typical Alzheimer’s disease (tAD, n = 13) and individuals with subjective cognitive decline (SCD, n = 13), using ANCOVAs and age- and sex-adjusted post hoc testing. Patients with bvAD (40.1 ± 8.6) showed lower scores on the Ekman 60 faces test compared to individuals with SCD (49.7 ± 5.0, P < 0.001), and patients with tAD (46.2 ± 5.3, P = 0.05) and higher scores compared to patients with bvFTD (32.4 ± 7.3, P = 0.002). Eye-tracking during the Ekman 60 faces test revealed no differences in dwell time on the eyes (all P > 0.05), but patients with bvAD (18.7 ± 9.5%) and bvFTD (19.4 ± 14.3%) spent significantly less dwell time on the mouth than individuals with SCD (30.7 ± 11.6%, P < 0.01) and patients with tAD (32.7 ± 12.1%, P < 0.01). Patients with bvAD (11.3 ± 4.6) exhibited lower scores on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index compared with individuals with SCD (15.6 ± 3.1, P = 0.05) and similar scores to patients with bvFTD (8.7 ± 5.6, P = 0.19) and tAD (13.0 ± 3.2, P = 0.43). The galvanic skin response to empathy eliciting videos did not differ between groups (all P > 0.05). Patients with bvAD (16.0 ± 1.6) and bvFTD (15.2 ± 2.2) showed lower scores on the Social Norms Questionnaire than patients with tAD (17.8 ± 2.1, P < 0.05) and individuals with SCD (18.3 ± 1.4, P < 0.05). No group differences were observed in scores on moral dilemmas (all P > 0.05), while only patients with bvFTD (0.9 ± 1.1) showed a lower galvanic skin response during personal dilemmas compared with SCD (3.4 ± 3.3 peaks per min, P = 0.01). Concluding, patients with bvAD showed a similar although milder social cognition profile and a similar eye-tracking signature to patients with bvFTD and greater social cognition impairments and divergent eye movement patterns compared with patients with tAD. Our results suggest reduced attention to salient facial features in these phenotypes, potentially contributing to their emotion recognition deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2163-2174
Number of pages12
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research of the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam is part of the neurodegeneration research program of Amsterdam Neuroscience. The Alzheimer Center Amsterdam is supported by Stichting Alzheimer Nederland and Stichting VUmc fonds. W.F. holds the Pasman chair. The authors would furthermore like to acknowledge Chrissy Rijkers for the help in constructing the test protocol for the current manuscript, Dr Stefan van der Stigchel for advice regarding the setup of the eye-tracking part of the study, Dr Joke Spikman for advice on the construction of the social cognition test battery, Mardou Leeuwestijn-Koopmans for help in patient recruitment and Kiara Heide and Oscar Haven for their support in constructing and monitoring the study test platform and conduction.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Guarantors of Brain.


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