Lesion analysis of the brain areas involved in language comprehension

Author(s): Dronkers NF, Wilkins DP, Van Valin RD Jr, Redfern BB, Jaeger JJ


The cortical regions of the brain traditionally associated with the comprehension of language are Wernicke's area and Broca's area. However, recent evidence suggests that other brain regions might also be involved in this complex process. This paper describes the opportunity to evaluate a large number of brain-injured patients to determine which lesioned brain areas might affect language comprehension. Sixty-four chronic left hemisphere stroke patients were evaluated on 11 subtests of the Curtiss-Yamada Comprehensive Language Evaluation - Receptive (CYCLE-R; Curtiss, S., & Yamada, J. (1988). Curtiss-Yamada Comprehensive Language Evaluation. Unpublished test, UCLA). Eight right hemisphere stroke patients and 15 neurologically normal older controls also participated. Patients were required to select a single line drawing from an array of three or four choices that best depicted the content of an auditorily-presented sentence. Patients' lesions obtained from structural neuroimaging were reconstructed onto templates and entered into a voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping (VLSM; Bates, E., Wilson, S., Saygin, A. P., Dick, F., Sereno, M., Knight, R. T., & Dronkers, N. F. (2003). Voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping. Nature Neuroscience, 6(5), 448-450.) analysis along with the behavioral data. VLSM is a brain-behavior mapping technique that evaluates the relationships between areas of injury and behavioral performance in all patients on a voxel-by-voxel basis, similar to the analysis of functional neuroimaging data. Results indicated that lesions to five left hemisphere brain regions affected performance on the CYCLE-R, including the posterior middle temporal gyrus and underlying white matter, the anterior superior temporal gyrus, the superior temporal sulcus and angular gyrus, mid-frontal cortex in Brodmann's area 46, and Brodmann's area 47 of the inferior frontal gyrus. Lesions to Broca's and Wernicke's areas were not found to significantly alter language comprehension on this particular measure. Further analysis suggested that the middle temporal gyrus may be more important for comprehension at the word level, while the other regions may play a greater role at the level of the sentence. These results are consistent with those seen in recent functional neuroimaging studies and offer complementary data in the effort to understand the brain areas underlying language comprehension.

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