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Real-time semantic compensation in patients with agrammatic comprehension: electrophysiological evidence for multiple-route plasticity.

Authors
Type
Published Article
Journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Publication Date
Volume
100
Issue
7
Pages
4340–4345
Identifiers
PMID: 12642675
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

To understand spoken language requires that the brain provides rapid access to different kinds of knowledge, including the sounds and meanings of words, and syntax. Syntax specifies constraints on combining words in a grammatically well formed manner. Agrammatic patients are deficient in their ability to use these constraints, due to a lesion in the perisylvian area of the language-dominant hemisphere. We report a study on real-time auditory sentence processing in agrammatic comprehenders, examining their ability to accommodate damage to the language system. We recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in agrammatic comprehenders, nonagrammatic aphasics, and age-matched controls. When listening to sentences with grammatical violations, the agrammatic aphasics did not show the same syntax-related ERP effect as the two other subject groups. Instead, the waveforms of the agrammatic aphasics were dominated by a meaning-related ERP effect, presumably reflecting their attempts to achieve understanding by the use of semantic constraints. These data demonstrate that although agrammatic aphasics are impaired in their ability to exploit syntactic information in real time, they can reduce the consequences of a syntactic deficit by exploiting a semantic route. They thus provide evidence for the compensation of a syntactic deficit by a stronger reliance on another route in mapping sound onto meaning. This is a form of plasticity that we refer to as multiple-route plasticity.

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