AIMS: The loss of von Economo neurons (VENs) and GABA receptor subunit theta (GABRQ) containing neurons is linked to early changes in social-emotional cognition and is seen in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) due to C9orf72 repeat expansion. We investigate the vulnerability of VENs and GABRQ-expressing neurons in sporadic and genetic forms of FTD with different underlying molecular pathology and their association with the presence and severity of behavioural symptoms.
METHODS: We quantified VENs and GABRQ-immunopositive neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in FTD with underlying TDP43 (FTLD-TDP) (n=34), tau (FTLD-tau) (n=24), or FUS (FTLD-FUS) (n=8) pathology, neurologically healthy controls (n=12) and Alzheimer's disease (AD) (n=7). Second, we quantified VENs and the GABRQ-expressing population in relation to presence of behavioural symptoms in the first years of disease onset.
RESULTS: The number of VENs and GABRQ-expressing neurons and the ratio of VENs and GABRQ-expressing neurons over total Layer 5 neuronal population decreased in FTLD-TDP and FTLD-FUS, but not in FTLD-tau, compared to control and AD. The severity of early behavioural symptoms in all donors correlated with a lower VEN and GABRQ neuronal count.
CONCLUSION: We show that in FTD, a loss of VENs together with GABRQ-expressing pyramidal neurons is associated with TDP43 and FUS pathology. No significant loss was found in donors with FTLD-tau pathology; however, this could be due to the specific MAPT mutation studied and small sporadic FTLD-tau sample size. Overall, we show the GABRQ-expressing population correlates with behavioural changes and suggest they are key in modulating behaviour in FTD.