Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease
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Research into PPA

The Mesulam Center is world-renowned for its primary progressive aphasia (PPA) research. Our work is focused on improving the diagnosis of PPA, validating new diagnostic biomarkers, identifying risk and genetic factors, understanding disease progression and developing innovative treatments. We have collaborators across the globe and hold leadership roles in the international society of frontotemporal dementia, which is dedicated to drawing scientific attention to frontotemporal disorders and related conditions. We are dedicated to raising awareness among individuals living with PPA, their families and clinicians.

Join a Study

We have both observational and interventional studies at our center. Some studies offer remote participation. Compensation may be provided. Visit our Join a Study page for more information about actively recruiting studies.

Our Progress

Within the past few years, with the help of supporters and a dedicated group of more than 150 research participants with PPA, the Mesulam Center accomplished the following:

  • Redefined how language comprehension is seen in the brain. By mapping brain regions to comprehension deficits in PPA patients, we have been able to show that single words and sentences are processed in distinct brain regions. This important finding will help guide scientists to more precise targets for future therapeutics. 
  • Applied an innovative eye-tracking method to prove that semantic variant PPA (PPA-S) is more complex than previously shown. By presenting PPA-S patients pictures of various objects on a screen while tracking their eye movements, we were able to illustrate how word meaning and knowledge begin to blend within a category in a hierarchal fashion rather than being altered individually. 
  • Used resting-state functional MRI to illuminate brain changes that were invisible with other imaging methods. This unique technique focuses on measuring blood-flow changes of patients while they are resting in order to better understand how different nodes of the brain interact with each other. This procedure not only enhances our understanding of the language network but also has the potential to change diagnostic procedures used for PPA. 
  • Utilized PET imaging technology to show contrasting patterns of amyloid-beta protein accumulation in the brains of those with PPA versus those with memory-loss dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. This research highlighted that amyloid-beta was disproportionately affecting the left side of the brain in PPA patients, helping us get at the root of understanding why PPA is affecting language before other areas of brain functioning.
  • Became the first department in the Feinberg School of Medicine to scan patients using the new AV-1451 PET tracer. This novel agent is being used to map deposits of the abnormal tau protein in patients with PPA. Complementing our study of amyloid-beta, these scans will contribute important knowledge about disease mechanisms in PPA. In the coming year, we will continue to apply state-of-the-art techniques to learn about primary progressive aphasia from all possible angles.
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