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The anterior temporal lobes support residual comprehension in Wernicke’s aphasia

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Holly Robson, Roland Zahn, James L. Keidel, Richard J. Binney, Karen Sage, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awt373 931-943 First published online: 11 February 2014

Summary

Wernicke’s aphasia occurs after a stroke to classical language comprehension regions in the left temporoparietal cortex. Consequently, auditory–verbal comprehension is significantly impaired in Wernicke’s aphasia but the capacity to comprehend visually presented materials (written words and pictures) is partially spared. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the neural basis of written word and picture semantic processing in Wernicke’s aphasia, with the wider aim of examining how the semantic system is altered after damage to the classical comprehension regions. Twelve participants with chronic Wernicke’s aphasia and 12 control participants performed semantic animate–inanimate judgements and a visual height judgement baseline task. Whole brain and region of interest analysis in Wernicke’s aphasia and control participants found that semantic judgements were underpinned by activation in the ventral and anterior temporal lobes bilaterally. The Wernicke’s aphasia group displayed an ‘over-activation’ in comparison with control participants, indicating that anterior temporal lobe regions become increasingly influential following reduction in posterior semantic resources. Semantic processing of written words in Wernicke’s aphasia was additionally supported by recruitment of the right anterior superior temporal lobe, a region previously associated with recovery from auditory-verbal comprehension impairments. Overall, the results provide support for models in which the anterior temporal lobes are crucial for multimodal semantic processing and that these regions may be accessed without support from classic posterior comprehension regions.

  • Wernicke’s aphasia
  • semantic processing
  • language comprehension
  • anterior temporal lobe
  • Wernicke’s area
  • Abbreviation
    PALPA
    psycholinguistic assessment of language processing in aphasia
  • This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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