Neurocognitive factorial structure of executive functions: Evidence from neurotypicals and frontotemporal dementia
Cortex. 2021 Oct 2;145:79-96. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2021.08.015. Online ahead of print.
The latent structure of executive functions (EFs) remains controversial. Confirmatory factorial analysis (CFA) has provided support for both multidimensional (assumes EFs to be functionally separable but related components) and bifactor (proposes all components are nested within a common factor) models. However, these CFA models have never been compared in patient samples, nor regarding their neuroanatomical correlates. Here, we systematically contrast both approaches in neurotypicals and in a neurodegenerative lesion model (patients with the behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, bvFTD), characterized by executive deficits associated with frontal neurodegeneration. First, CFA was used to test the models' fit in a sample of 341 neurotypicals and 29 bvFTD patients based on performance in an executive frontal screening battery which assesses working memory, motor inhibition, verbal inhibition, and abstraction capacity. Second, we compared EFs factor and observed scores between patients and matched controls. Finally, we used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to compare the grey matter correlates of factor and observed scores. CFA results showed that both models fit the data well. The multidimensional model, however, was more sensitive than the bifactor model and the observed scores to detect EFs impairments in bvFTD patients. VBM results for the multidimensional model revealed common and unique grey matter correlates for EFs components across prefrontal-insular, posterior, and temporal cortices. Regarding the bifactor model, only the common factor was associated with prefrontal-insular hubs. Observed scores presented scant, non-frontal grey matter associations. Converging behavioral and neuroanatomical evidence from healthy populations and a neurodegenerative model of EFs supports an underlying multidimensional structure.