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Naming unique entities in the semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia and Alzheimer's disease: Towards a better understanding of the semantic impairment.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Neuropsychologia, Volume 95, p.11-20 (2017)


While the semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia (svPPA) is characterized by a predominant semantic memory impairment, episodic memory impairments are the clinical hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, AD patients also present with semantic deficits, which are more severe for semantically unique entities (e.g. a famous person) than for common concepts (e.g. a beaver). Previous studies in these patient populations have largely focused on famous-person naming. Therefore, we aimed to evaluate if these impairments also extend to other semantically unique entities such as famous places and famous logos. In this study, 13 AD patients, 9 svPPA patients, and 12 cognitively unimpaired elderly subjects (CTRL) were tested with a picture-naming test of non-unique entities (Boston Naming Test) and three experimental tests of semantically unique entities assessing naming of famous persons, places, and logos. Both clinical groups were overall more impaired at naming semantically unique entities than non-unique entities. Naming impairments in AD and svPPA extended to the other types of semantically unique entities, since a CTRL>AD>svPPA pattern was found on the performance of all naming tests. Naming famous places and famous persons appeared to be most impaired in svPPA, and both specific and general semantic knowledge for these entities were affected in these patients. Although AD patients were most significantly impaired on famous-person naming, only their specific semantic knowledge was impaired, while general knowledge was preserved. Post-hoc neuroimaging analyses also showed that famous-person naming impairments in AD correlated with atrophy in the temporo-parietal junction, a region functionally associated with lexical access. In line with previous studies, svPPA patients' impairment in both naming and semantic knowledge suggest a more profound semantic impairment, while naming impairments in AD may arise to a greater extent from impaired lexical access, even though semantic impairment for specific knowledge is also present. These results highlight the critical importance of developing and using a variety of semantically-unique-entity naming tests in neuropsychological assessments of patients with neurodegenerative diseases, which may unveil different patterns of lexical-semantic deficits.

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