The group of Frontotemporal dementias (FTD) is composed of non-Alzheimer forms of dementia characterized clinically by behavioural and personality change leading to apathy and mutism. The disorder is associated with a progressive atrophy of the frontal, anterior temporal and anterior parietal lobes of the brain with several types of underlying pathology. One type (frontal lobe degeneration) is characterized by a microvacuolar degeneration of the outer cortical laminae along with a mild and mainly subpial gliosis and a loss of nerve cells, mostly from layers II and III. Another type shows transcortical tissue cavitation and florid gliosis with neuronal degeneration characterized by the presence of tau and ubiquitin positive inclusion bodies and α B-crystallin-positive ballooned neurones: such changes have been termed ‘Pick-type histology’, and form the basis for the modern definition of ‘Pick's disease’. The aetiological relationship between these two histological types is presently unknown. Both histologies can be differently distributed topographically throughout the brain to produce syndromes of progressive language disorder, when affecting bitemporal lobes or the left hemisphere preferentially, or progressive apraxia when parietal and motor regions are involved. Either pathology can be combined with or overlaps with that of classical motor neurone disease to produce motor neurone disease dementia. The underlying cause of FTD is unknown but genetic factors are strongly implicated. About half of cases show a previous family history of a similar disorder. In several families bearing a FTD clinical and pathological phenotype, linkage to chromosome 17 has been established but the pathology of this group appears distinctive and its relation to other forms of FTD awaits further elucidation. It is still possible that the many clinical and pathological variants of FTD may reflect different phenotypic expressions of a particular genetic change(s) at a single locus on this chromosome.