Enhancing theory of mind in behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia with transcranial direct current stimulation

Maria Cotelli, Mauro Adenzato, Valentina Cantoni, Rosa Manenti, Antonella Alberici, Ivan Enrici, Alberto Benussi, Valentina Dell'Era, Elisa Bonetta, Alessandro Padovani, Barbara Borroni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) is a form of frontotemporal degeneration characterized by early changes in personality, emotional blunting, and/or loss of empathy. Recent research has highlighted that these features may be at least partially explained by impairments in the theory of mind (ToM; i.e., the ability to understand and predict other people's behaviour by attributing independent mental states to them). The aim of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was to test the hypothesis that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the medial frontal cortex (MFC) selectively enhances communicative intention processing, a specific ToM ability. Using a single-session online design, we administered a ToM task that measures the ability to represent other people's private and communicative intentions during active or sham tDCS to 16 bvFTD patients. To assess the impact of dementia on performance on the ToM task, we included 16 age-matched healthy volunteers who were asked to perform the entire experimental ToM task. BvFTD is characterized by an impairment in the comprehension of both communicative and private intentions relative to a healthy control group and by a disproportional impairment in communicative intention compared with private intention processing. Significant and selective accuracy improvement in the comprehension of communicative intentions after active stimulation was observed in patients with bvFTD. This is the first study that analyses ToM ability in patients with bvFTD using tDCS stimulation. Our findings could potentially contribute to the development of an effective, noninvasive brain stimulation treatment of ToM impairments in patients with bvFTD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1065-1075
Number of pages11
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


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