Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease

PPA Research Program

About the Study

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a diagnosis made in people who show a gradual impairment of word finding and word usage. The Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center is a major referral center for PPA and conducts unique clinical, research, and psychosocial programs focusing on this condition.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has awarded the CNADC a five-year grant to support one of the most comprehensive PPA investigations ever undertaken. Because many individuals with PPA come from out of town, the grant provides funding for reimbursing participants and a companion for travel to Chicago and for three days' lodging and meals.

The study lasts three days total, about seven hours each day including breaks and lunch. The first two days take place in Chicago and involve neuropsychological testing, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and an event-related potentials (ERP) task. The final day takes place at Northwestern's main campus in Evanston, IL, located about 15 minutes north of Chicago. There, individuals with PPA participate in a variety of language and naming experiments, some that involve voice recording and others that include ERP testing.

People with PPA and age-matched control subjects will participate in this study. Participants will be asked to return two years later to compare changes between the two visits.

The materials collected from the study will be used to investigate a variety of topics. Specifically, the goals of this study are:

Download PPA Participant Information Brochure

Where Do Our Subjects Come From?

Subject Map

About MRI

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a special technique that researchers and clinicians use to see the tissues inside the body. For the PPA study, we are looking at the brain. The images obtained will be used to compare with other participants, learn more about the brains of people with PPA, and examine the relationship between brain changes and test performance.

The MRI portion of the study takes about forty-five minutes. You will change into a hospital gown and remove all metallic objects (jewelry, hearing aids, etc.). You will be asked to lie still on your back on a table with a specifically designed headrest. This will keep you from moving your head. After you are positioned, the table will slide into the enclosed portion of the scanner.

The MRI scanner is loud and you may feel a small vibration, but this is normal. To communicate with the staff through an intercom system and to protect you from the noise, you will be wearing headphones specifically designed for MRI. You will have constant contact with the researchers while you are in the scanner.

About ERP

ERP stands for event related potentials. This non-invasive technique is used to analyze electroencephalogram (EEG) results and to learn about specific functions of the brain. In this type of study, the electric activity of the brain is recorded through electrodes placed on the scalp.

To prepare for the experiment, you will sit down in a comfy chair while research assistants place an elastic EEG cap with small holes over your scalp. After the cap has been put on your head, a small amount of water-based gel is put into each hole. Sensors are then placed on top of each gel stop. You will be asked to perform a variety of cognitive tasks while the sensors record the signals that your brain emits. The tasks last about an hour.

After the experiment is finished, the researchers will take off the cap. You may have some gel remaining in your hair. We will have shampoo, towels and a hair dryer available for you if you prefer. Please bring a comb or brush if you require one.


All participants will be compensated for their participation in the experiment. Travel and accommodations for out of town individuals are covered by the study and are booked in advance by a research assistant. Local participants will have travel expenses reimbursed.

Meals are compensated for both local and out of town participants. Additionally, all participants will receive a $100 per day participation fee.


Potential participants must be right-handed, not claustrophobic, safe for MRI scanning and free of any illness or condition other than PPA that would affect their ability to participate now or in the future.

Individuals not seen at the Northwestern CNADC will need to send records (neurology, neuropsychology and imaging reports) and have a phone interview before being approved by the study director to participate. Other inclusion/exclusion criteria apply and will be discussed during the phone interview.

If you are interested in becoming a participant or would like more information about this study, please contact:

Benjamin Rader
Northwestern CNADC
320 E. Superior Street, Searle 11-579
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-908-9681
Fax: 312-908-8789

Selected Publications

Contact Us

If you are interested in becoming a participant or would like more information about this study, please contact:

Benjamin Rader
Northwestern CNADC
320 E. Superior Street, Searle 11-579
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-908-9681
Fax: 312-908-8789


Dr. Marsel Mesulam
Dr. Sandra Weintraub
Dr. Emily Rogalski
Dr. Robert Hurley
Dr. Cynthia Thompson
Dr. Ken Paller