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Varieties of semantic ‘access’ deficit in Wernicke’s aphasia and semantic aphasia

Thompson, H. E., Robson, H., Lambon Ralph, M. A. and Jefferies, E. (2015) Varieties of semantic ‘access’ deficit in Wernicke’s aphasia and semantic aphasia. Brain : a journal of neurology, 138 (12). pp. 3776-3792. ISSN 1460-2156

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/brain/awv281

Abstract/Summary

Comprehension deficits are common in stroke aphasia, including in cases with (i) semantic aphasia (SA), characterised by poor executive control of semantic processing across verbal and nonverbal modalities, and (ii) Wernicke’s aphasia (WA), associated with poor auditory-verbal comprehension and repetition, plus fluent speech with jargon. However, the varieties of these comprehension problems, and their underlying causes, are not well-understood. Both patient groups exhibit some type of semantic ‘access’ deficit, as opposed to the ‘storage’ deficits observed in semantic dementia. Nevertheless, existing descriptions suggest these patients might have different varieties of ‘access’ impairment – related to difficulty resolving competition (in SA) vs. initial activation of concepts from sensory inputs (in WA). We used a case-series design to compare WA and SA patients on Warrington’s paradigmatic assessment of semantic ‘access’ deficits. In these verbal and non-verbal matching tasks, a small set of semantically-related items are repeatedly presented over several cycles so that the target on one trial becomes a distractor on another (building up interference and eliciting semantic ‘blocking’ effects). WA and SA patients were distinguished according to lesion location in the temporal cortex, but in each group, some individuals had additional prefrontal damage. Both of these aspects of lesion variability – one that mapped onto classical ‘syndromes’ and one that did not – predicted aspects of the semantic ‘access’ deficit. Both SA and WA cases showed multimodal semantic impairment, although as expected the WA group showed greater deficits on auditory-verbal than picture judgements. Distribution of damage in the temporal lobe was crucial for predicting the initially beneficial effects of stimulus repetition: WA cases showed initial improvement with repetition of words and pictures, while in SA, semantic access was initially good but declined in the face of competition from previous targets. Prefrontal damage predicted the harmful effects of repetition: the ability to re-select both word and picture targets in the face of mounting competition was linked to left prefrontal damage in both groups. Therefore, SA and WA patients have partially distinct impairment of semantic ‘access’ but, across these syndromes, prefrontal lesions produce declining comprehension with repetition in both verbal and non-verbal tasks.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Clinical Language Sciences
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Language and Cognition
ID Code:44845
Publisher:Oxford Journals

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