Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Memory deficits in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are not exclusively caused by executive dysfunction: a comparative neuropsychological study of amnestic mild cognitive impairment

Judith Machts1*, Verena Bittner2, Elisabeth Kasper3, Christina Schuster3, Johannes Prudlo3, Susanne Abdulla124, Katja Kollewe4, Susanne Petri4, Reinhard Dengler4, Hans-Jochen Heinze125, Stefan Vielhaber12, Mircea A Schoenfeld256 and Daniel M Bittner12

Author Affiliations

1 German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Magdeburg, Leipziger Straße 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany

2 Department of Neurology, Otto-von-Guericke University, Leipziger Straße 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany

3 German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Rostock, Gehlsheimer Straße 20, 18147 Rostock, Germany

4 Department of Neurology, Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg-Str. 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany

5 Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Brenneckestraße 6, 39118 Magdeburg, Germany

6 Kliniken Schmieder, Zum Tafelholz 8, 78476 Allensbach, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2014, 15:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-15-83

Published: 30 June 2014



Recent work suggests that ALS and frontotemporal dementia can occur together and share at least in part the same underlying pathophysiology. However, it is unclear at present whether memory deficits in ALS stem from a temporal lobe dysfunction, or are rather driven by frontal executive dysfunction. In this study we sought to investigate the nature of memory deficits by analyzing the neuropsychological performance of 40 ALS patients in comparison to 39 amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) patients and 40 healthy controls (HC). The neuropsychological battery tested for impairment in executive functions, as well as memory and visuo-spatial skills, the results of which were compared across study groups. In addition, we calculated composite scores for memory (learning, recall, recognition) and executive functions (verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility, working memory). We hypothesized that the nature of memory impairment in ALS will be different from those exhibited by aMCI patients.


Patient groups exhibited significant differences in their type of memory deficit, with the ALS group showing impairment only in recognition, whereas aMCI patients showed short and delayed recall performance deficits as well as reduced short-term capacity. Regression analysis revealed a significant impact of executive function on memory performance exclusively for the ALS group, accounting for one fifth of their memory performance. Interestingly, merging all sub scores into a single memory and an executive function score obscured these differences.


The presented results indicate that the interpretation of neuropsychological scores needs to take the distinct cognitive profiles in ALS and aMCI into consideration. Importantly, the observed memory deficits in ALS were distinctly different from those observed in aMCI and can be explained only to some extent in the context of comorbid (coexisting) executive dysfunction. These findings highlight the qualitative differences in temporal lobe dysfunction between ALS and aMCI patients, and support temporal lobe dysfunction as a mechanism underlying the distinct cognitive impairments observed in ALS.

Cognitive neuropsychology; ALS; Episodic memory