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doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000359088.65066.86
DEPARTMENT: ASK THE EXPERT: Your Question Answered

William Seeley, M.D., is assistant professor of neurology at University of California, San Francisco Memory & Aging Center.

Q My wife has Pick's disease. Is it similar to Alzheimer's? Is there any hope for a cure?

A Pick's disease, also known as frontotemporal dementia (FTD), is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that shares many features with Alzheimer's. Both illnesses result from misfolded proteins that interfere with brain cell function and cause those cells to slowly die over time. However, the genes and proteins implicated in FTD and Alzheimer's disease are different. Patients with FTD usually develop symptoms in their 50s or 60s, which is significantly earlier in life than most patients with Alzheimer's. Also, whereas Alzheimer's disease begins with memory loss, FTD usually begins with behavioral changes or problems with speech and language.

Treatments for FTD remain limited. A placebo-controlled trial of a drug called memantine is actively enrolling patients; for more information, Other trials likely to begin in the next year are listed on the Web site search by typing “frontotemporal dementia.” Although potential cures remain years away, recent advances in the understanding of basic FTD biology, including the discovery of new causative genes and proteins, have fueled a surge of optimism among FTD researchers.

©2009 American Academy of Neurology