Episodic future thinking is impaired in the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia

Muireann Irish*, John R. Hodges, Olivier Piguet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Remembering the past and imagining the future are complex endeavours proposed to rely on a core neurobiological brain system. In the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), regional patterns of brain atrophy affect medial prefrontal and temporal cortices of this core network. While autobiographical memory impairments have been documented in bvFTD, it remains unknown whether the ability to imagine future events is also compromised. Here, we investigated episodic future thinking in 10 bvFTD patients and contrasted their performance with Alzheimer's disease (AD, n=10) and healthy matched Control (n=10) participants. Participants were asked to remember 3 events from the previous year and to envisage 3 possible events that could occur in the next year. Both patient groups showed equivalent episodic detail performance for the retrieval of past events and the simulation of possible future episodes. Patients with bvFTD, however, showed additional impairments for the generation of external (non-episodic) details irrespective of condition. Voxel-based morphometry analyses revealed divergent neural correlates of episodic past and future thinking performance specific to each patient group. Atrophy in the posterior cingulate cortex was implicated in the disruption of past and future thinking in AD. In contrast, in bvFTD, disruption of past retrieval correlated with atrophy in medial prefrontal regions, whereas future thinking deficits were associated with atrophy of frontopolar, medial temporal regions including the right hippocampus, and lateral temporal and occipital cortices. Our results point to the involvement of multiple brain regions in facilitating retrieval of past, and simulation of future, events. Damage to any of these key regions thus adversely affects the ability to engage in personally relevant mental time travel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2377-2388
Number of pages12
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Dementia
  • Episodic memory
  • Hippocampus
  • Imagination


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