Objective: Semantic dementia, a subtype of frontotemporal lobar degeneration, is characterised by cross-modal loss of conceptual knowledge attributable to progressive degeneration of the left anterior temporal lobe. Much less is known regarding the clinical presentation of SD patients with predominantly right-lateralised atrophy. Recent reports emphasise marked socioemotional and behavioural disturbances in such cases. Given the importance of the right anterior temporal lobes in social cognition, we hypothesised that socioemotional functioning would be disproportionately affected in right versus left-lateralised SD cases. Methods: We assessed well-characterised cases of predominantly right (n=10) and left (n=12) SD and 20 matched healthy controls on tests of emotion processing and interpersonal functioning. Results: Right SD cases showed disproportionate difficulties in the recognition of positive and negative facial emotions, specifically happiness and anger, compared with left SD cases. Deficits in anger recognition persisted in right SD despite covarying for facial and semantic processing. On a contextually rich task of emotion recognition using multimodal videos, no subgroup differences were evident. Finally, empathic concern was rated as significantly lower by caregivers of right versus left SD cases. Overall, the extent of socioemotional disturbance was associated with the degree of behavioural changes in SD. Conclusion: Our results reveal considerable overlap in the extent to which socioemotional processes are disrupted in left and right-lateralised cases of SD. Notably, however, right SD cases show disproportionate deficits for recognition of facial emotions and the capacity for empathic concern, supporting a specialised role for the right anterior temporal lobes in mediating these cognitive functions.
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- Emotion processing
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Hemispheric lateralisation
- Semantic dementia