Background: The emotion recognition task (ERT) was developed to overcome shortcomings of static emotion recognition paradigms, by identifying more subtle deficits in emotion recognition across different intensity levels. In this study, we used the ERT to investigate emotion recognition deficits across the frontotemporal (FTD) and Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD) spectrum. Methods: With the ERT, we assessed the recognition of facial emotional expressions (anger-disgust-fear-happiness-sadness-surprise) across four intensities (40–60–80–100%) in patients with behavioural variant FTD (bvFTD; n = 32), and AD (n = 32), presymptomatic FTD mutation carriers (n = 47) and controls (n = 49). We examined group differences using multilevel linear regression with age, sex and education level as covariates, and performed post hoc analyses on presymptomatic (MAPT, GRN and C9orf72) mutation carriers. Classification abilities were investigated by means of logistic regression. Results: Lowest ERT total scores were found in patients with bvFTD and AD, whereas equal highest performance was found in presymptomatic mutation carriers and controls. For all emotions, significantly lower subscores were found in patients with bvFTD than in presymptomatic mutation carriers and in controls (highest p value = 0.025). Patients with bvFTD performed lower than patients with AD on anger (p = 0.005) and a trend towards significance was found for a lower performance on happiness (p = 0.065). Task performance increased with higher emotional intensity, and classification was better at the lowest than at the highest intensity. C9orf72 mutation carriers performed worse on recognizing anger at the lowest intensity than GRN mutation carriers (p = 0.047) and controls (p = 0.038). The ERT differentiated between patients with bvFTD and controls, and between patients with AD and controls (both p < 0.001). Discussion: Our results demonstrate emotion recognition deficits in both bvFTD and AD, and suggest the presence of subtle emotion recognition changes in presymptomatic C9orf72-FTD. This highlights the importance of incorporating emotion recognition paradigms into standard neuropsychological assessment for early differential diagnosis, and as clinical endpoints in upcoming therapeutic trials.

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Keywords Alzheimer’s dementia, Emotion recognition, ERT, Familial, Frontotemporal dementia, Presymptomatic
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Journal Journal of Neurology: official journal of the European Neurological Society
Jiskoot, L.C, Poos, J.M, Vollebergh, M.E. (Manon E.), Franzen, S. (Sanne), van Hemmen, J. (Judy), Papma, J.M, … van den Berg, E. (2020). Emotion recognition of morphed facial expressions in presymptomatic and symptomatic frontotemporal dementia, and Alzheimer’s dementia. Journal of Neurology: official journal of the European Neurological Society. doi:10.1007/s00415-020-10096-y