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Interhemispheric Differences in Knowledge of Animals Among Patients With Semantic Dementia

Mendez, Mario F. MD, PhD*,†; Kremen, Sarah A. MD*; Tsai, Po-Heng MD*; Shapira, Jill S. RN, PhD*

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: December 2010 - Volume 23 - Issue 4 - p 240–246
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0b013e3181f22448
Original Studies

Objective To investigate interhemispheric differences on naming and fluency tasks for living versus nonliving things among patients with semantic dementia (SD).

Background In SD, left-temporal involvement impairs language and word comprehension, and right-temporal involvement impairs facial recognition. There may be other interhemispheric differences, particularly in the animate-inanimate dichotomy.

Method On the basis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) ratings of anterior temporal atrophy, 36 patients who met criteria for SD were divided into 21 with left-predominant and 11 with right-predominant involvement (4 others were too symmetric for analysis). The left and right-predominant groups were compared on naming, fluency, and facial recognition tests.

Results Consistent with greater language impairment, the left-predominant patients had worse naming, especially inanimate and letter fluency, than the right-predominant patients. In contrast, difference in scores suggested selective impairment of animal naming, animal name fluency, and semantic knowledge for animate items among the right-predominant patients. Proportionally more right than left-predominant patients misnamed animal items and faces.

Conclusions These findings support interhemispheric differences in animal knowledge. Whereas left-predominant SD equally affects animate and inanimate words from language involvement, right-predominant SD, with greater sparing of language, continues to impair other semantic aspects of animals. The right anterior temporal region seems to make a unique contribution to knowledge of living things.

*Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, The University of California at Los Angeles

the Neurobehavior Unit, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare Center, Los Angeles, CA

This study was supported by grant ♯R01AG034499-02.

Reprints: Mario F. Mendez, MD, PhD, Neurobehavior Unit (691/116AF), V.A. Greater Los Angeles Healthcare Center, 11301 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90073 (e-mail

Received December 13, 2009

Accepted July 1, 2010

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.