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Stroke Patients’ Speech Loss Linked to Loss of Brain Interconnections

Imaging Reveals Disruption of Language Network “Structural Hubs” Directly Associated with Aphasia Following Stroke, Reports Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience

February 23, 2016
When brain regions that control speech and reading comprehension are destroyed due to blockage of blood flow, patients are often unable to speak or comprehend spoken or written language. These difficulties with language, or “aphasia,” are a common symptom in the aftermath of stroke. However, in a new study published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, researchers report that damage to the underlying connections among different areas of the brain can also affect the severity of aphasia.

The brain’s macro architecture of connections can be reproduced as a “connectome” composed of nodes representing various regions of the brain and their edges, the connections between such nodes. Some of these nodes function as hubs, which are fundamental to the overall organization and distribution of information throughout the brain. When a network hub has an excess of interconnections, it is part of a so-called “rich club network.” There is a growing body of evidence that damage to this rich club network can impair various speech and reading functions in much the same way as direct damage to brain regions normally associated with speech and comprehension.

This investigation involved 44 patients who had experienced a left hemisphere ischemic stroke at least six months prior to the study. Aphasia testing used the Western Aphasia Battery, which determined overall aphasia severity, as well as sub-assessments of speech fluency, auditory comprehension, speech repetition, and naming. Each participant was assigned an Aphasia Quotient (WAB-AQ) as a measure of severity. MRI Diffusion Tensor Imaging (MRI-DTI), which can map the interconnections between brain regions, was used to identify the rich club network in each individual patient.

Investigators found that when imaging revealed that the post-stroke patients studied had different distributions of rich club nodes, their aphasia could differ markedly. They present a striking example in which two patients had similar volumes of stroke damage but very dissimilar numbers of rich club nodes remaining nearby. Patient B had more severe aphasia (lower WAB-AQ = 23.6) than patient A (WAB-AB = 64.6).

Caption: Two representative participants were drawn from our sample to demonstrate the relationship between number of rich club nodes in each hemisphere and language performance. Despite comparable lesion volumes (A = 5796 voxels, B= 5614 voxels) and number of right-hemisphere rich club nodes, patient B – who had one isolated left-hemisphere rich club node – showed remarkably low language performance compared to patient A, who had fourteen nodes participation in the rich club on the left hemisphere.

“Subjects whose spared cortical language regions are integrated into the remaining network as rich club nodes are less likely to have more severe forms of aphasia,” explained lead investigators Ezequiel Gleichgerrcht, MD, PhD, and Leonardo Bonilha, MD, PhD, from the Department of Neurology, Medical University of South Carolina.

While clinical practice has often focused on the direct damage to the grey matter of the brain, new mapping techniques such as MRI-DTI can examine the white matter connections throughout the brain. The investigators stressed that, “These findings further highlight the potential relevance and utility of mapping the neural connectome of individual subjects. Identifying patterns of white matter integrity has the potential to add valuable information to the well-established volume-based analysis of clinical, neuropsychological, and language outcomes from both theoretical and clinical perspectives.”

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NOTES FOR EDITORS

Preservation of structural brain network hubs is associated with less severe post-stroke aphasia,” by Ezequiel Gleichgerrcht, Madison Kocher, Travis Nesland, Chris Rorden, Julius Fridriksson and Leonardo Bonilha. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, Volume 34, Issue 1, DOI 10.3233/RNN-150511, published by IOS Press.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Daphne Watrin, IOS Press at +31 20 688 3355 or d.watrin@iospress.nl. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact Ezequiel Gleichgerrcht at gleichge@musc.edu.

ABOUT RESTORATIVE NEUROLOGY AND NEUROSCIENCE (RNN)

An interdisciplinary journal under the editorial leadership of Bernhard Sabel, PhD, Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience publishes papers relating the plasticity and response of the nervous system to accidental or experimental injuries and their interventions, transplantation, neurodegenerative disorders and experimental strategies to improve regeneration or functional recovery and rehabilitation. Experimental and clinical research papers adopting fresh conceptual approaches are encouraged. The overriding criteria for publication are novelty, significant experimental or clinical relevance and interest to a multidisciplinary audience.

RNN Editorial Office
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Sabel
Institut für Medizinische Psychologie
Medizinische Fakultät
Otto-v.-Guericke Universität Magdeburg
39120 Magdeburg/Germany
Tel: +49-391-672-1800
Fax: +49-391-672-1803
Email: rnn@med.ovgu.de

ABOUT IOS PRESS

Commencing its publishing activities in 1987, IOS Press serves the information needs of scientific and medical communities worldwide. IOS Press now (co-)publishes over 100 international journals and about 75 book titles each year on subjects ranging from computer sciences and mathematics to medicine and the natural sciences.

IOS Press continues its rapid growth, embracing new technologies for the timely dissemination of information. All journals are available electronically and an e-book platform was launched in 2005.

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