Social cognition differentiates phenocopy syndrome of behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia from behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia

Marie-Paule E van Engelen*, Paulette Louwers, Jay L P Fieldhouse, Flora T Gossink, Sterre C M de Boer, Annemieke Dols, Philip Scheltens, Sigfried N T M Schouws, Yolande A L Pijnenburg, Everard G B Vijverberg, Welmoed A Krudop

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Patients displaying clinical features of behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) but lacking both neuroimaging abnormalities and clinical progression are considered to represent the phenocopy syndrome of bvFTD (phFTD). Extensive clinical overlap between early phase bvFTD and phFTD hampers diagnostic distinction. We aimed to assess the diagnostic value of clinician-rated, self-reported and caregiver-reported symptoms for clinical distinction between phFTD and bvFTD. Methods: There were 33 phFTD and 95 probable bvFTD patients included in the study (total N = 128). Clinician-rated, self-reported tests and caregiver-reported symptoms were compared between phFTD and bvFTD on social cognition, behaviour, mood and activities of daily living (ADL). Scores were compared between groups, followed by multiple logistic regression analysis, adjusted for age and sex. Receiver operating characteristic curves were plotted to assess diagnostic value. Results: Using clinician-rated and self-reported tests, phFTD patients performed better on facial emotion recognition and reported more depressive symptoms. Caregiver-reported behavioural symptoms indicated higher behavioural and ADL impairment in phFTD compared to bvFTD. Facial emotion recognition provided highest diagnostic accuracy for distinction of phFTD from bvFTD (area under the curve (AUC) 0.813 95% CI 0.735–0.892, P < 0.001, sensitivity 81%, specificity 74%) followed by depressive symptoms (AUC 0.769 95% 0.674–0.864, P < 0.001 sensitivity 81%, specificity of 63%). Conclusion: Social cognition tests are most suitable for distinction of phFTD from bvFTD. Caregiver-reported questionnaires and phFTD diagnosis seemed inversely correlated, showing more symptoms in phFTD. Further research is needed on phFTD aetiology and in caregivers taking into account disease burden to assess what explains this discrepancy between clinician-rated and caregiver-based tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)741-751
Number of pages11
JournalPsychogeriatrics : the official journal of the Japanese Psychogeriatric Society
Issue number4
Early online date2 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2024


  • diagnostics
  • frontotemporal dementia
  • phenocopy FTD
  • social cognition


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