Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
February 2020, Vol. 32, No. 2, Pages 256-271
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Brain Damage Associated with Impaired Sentence Processing in Acute Aphasia
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Left-hemisphere brain damage commonly affects patients' abilities to produce and comprehend syntactic structures, a condition typically referred to as “agrammatism.” The neural correlates of agrammatism remain disputed in the literature, and distributed areas have been implicated as important predictors of performance, for example, Broca's area, anterior temporal areas, and temporo-parietal areas. We examined the association between damage to specific language-related ROIs and impaired syntactic processing in acute aphasia. We hypothesized that damage to the posterior middle temporal gyrus, and not Broca's area, would predict syntactic processing abilities. One hundred four individuals with acute aphasia (<20 days poststroke) were included in the study. Structural MRI scans were obtained, and all participants completed a 45-item sentence–picture matching task. We performed an ROI-based stepwise regression analyses to examine the relation between cortical brain damage and impaired comprehension of canonical and noncanonical sentences. Damage to the posterior middle temporal gyrus was the strongest predictor for overall task performance and performance on noncanonical sentences. Damage to the angular gyrus was the strongest predictor for performance on canonical sentences, and damage to the posterior superior temporal gyrus predicted noncanonical scores when performance on canonical sentences was included as a cofactor. Overall, our models showed that damage to temporo-parietal and posterior temporal areas was associated with impaired syntactic comprehension. Our results indicate that the temporo-parietal area is crucially implicated in complex syntactic processing, whereas the role of Broca's area may be complementary.