We examined narrative discourse in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to assess the role of executive functioning in support of language and the neuroanatomical basis for such support.
We analyzed a semistructured speech sample in 26 patients with ALS and 19 healthy seniors for narrative discourse features of coherence. Regression analyses related a measure of discourse coherence (“local connectedness”) to gray matter atrophy and reduced white matter fractional anisotropy.
Patients with ALS were impaired relative to controls on measures of discourse adequacy, including local connectedness and maintenance of the theme. These discourse measures were related to measures of executive functioning but not to motor functioning. Regressions related local connectedness to gray matter atrophy in ventral and dorsal prefrontal regions and to reduced fractional anisotropy in white matter tracts mediating projections between prefrontal regions.
Patients with ALS exhibit deficits in their ability to organize narrative discourse. These deficits appear to be related in part to executive limitations. Consistent with the hypothesis that ALS is a multisystem disorder, this deficit is related to disease in prefrontal regions.
Quantitative examinations of speech production in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are rare. To identify language features minimally confounded by a motor disorder, we investigated linguistic and motor sources of impaired sentence expression in ALS, and we related deficits to gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) MRI abnormalities. We analyzed a semi-structured speech sample in 26 ALS patients and 19 healthy seniors for motor- and language-related deficits. Regression analyses related grammaticality to GM atrophy and reduced WM fractional anisotropy (FA). Results demonstrated that ALS patients were impaired relative to controls on quantity of speech, speech rate, speech articulation errors, and grammaticality. Speech rate and articulation errors were related to the patients’ motor impairment, while grammatical difficulty was independent of motor difficulty. This was confirmed in subgroups without dysarthria and without executive deficits. Regressions related grammatical expression to GM atrophy in left inferior frontal and anterior temporal regions and to reduced FA in superior longitudinal and inferior frontal-occipital fasciculi. In conclusion, patients with ALS exhibit multifactorial deficits in sentence expression. They demonstrate a deficit in grammatical expression that is independent of their motor disorder. Impaired grammatical expression is related to disease in a network of brain regions associated with syntactic processing.
Dementia; aphasia; cognitive neuropsychology; language; speech
A brief speech expression protocol that can be administered and scored without special training would aid in the differential diagnosis of the 3 principal forms of primary progressive aphasia (PPA): nonfluent/agrammatic PPA, logopenic variant PPA, and semantic variant PPA.
We used a picture-description task to elicit a short speech sample, and we evaluated impairments in speech-sound production, speech rate, lexical retrieval, and grammaticality. We compared the results with those obtained by a longer, previously validated protocol and further validated performance with multimodal imaging to assess the neuroanatomical basis of the deficits.
We found different patterns of impaired grammar in each PPA variant, and additional language production features were impaired in each: nonfluent/agrammatic PPA was characterized by speech-sound errors; logopenic variant PPA by dysfluencies (false starts and hesitations); and semantic variant PPA by poor retrieval of nouns. Strong correlations were found between this brief speech sample and a lengthier narrative speech sample. A composite measure of grammaticality and other measures of speech production were correlated with distinct regions of gray matter atrophy and reduced white matter fractional anisotropy in each PPA variant.
These findings provide evidence that large-scale networks are required for fluent, grammatical expression; that these networks can be selectively disrupted in PPA syndromes; and that quantitative analysis of a brief speech sample can reveal the corresponding distinct speech characteristics.
Grammatical comprehension difficulty is an essential supporting feature of the non-fluent/agrammatic variant of primary progressive aphasia (naPPA), but well-controlled clinical measures of grammatical comprehension are unavailable.
To develop a measure of grammatical comprehension and examine this comparatively in PPA variants and behavioural-variant frontotemporal degeneration (bvFTD) and to assess the neuroanatomic basis for these deficits with volumetric grey matter atrophy and whole-brain fractional anisotropy (FA) in white matter tracts.
Academic medical centre.
39 patients with variants of PPA (naPPA=12, lvPPA=15 and svPPA=12), 27 bvFTD patients without aphasia and 12 healthy controls.
Main outcome measure
Grammatical comprehension accuracy.
Patients with naPPA had selective difficulty understanding cleft sentence structures, while all PPA variants and patients with bvFTD were impaired with sentences containing a centre-embedded subordinate clause. Patients with bvFTD were also impaired understanding sentences involving short-term memory. Linear regressions related grammatical comprehension difficulty in naPPA to left anterior-superior temporal atrophy and reduced FA in corpus callosum and inferior frontal-occipital fasciculus. Difficulty with centre-embedded sentences in other PPA variants was related to other brain regions.
Conclusions and relevance
These findings emphasise a distinct grammatical comprehension deficit in naPPA and associate this with interruption of a frontal-temporal neural network.
Patients with Lewy body spectrum disorders (LBSD) such as Parkinson’s disease (PD), Parkinson’s disease with dementia (PDD), and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) exhibit deficits in both narrative comprehension and narrative expression. The present research examines the hypothesis that these impairments are due to a material-neutral deficit in organizational executive resources rather than to impairments of language per se. We predicted that comprehension and expression of narrative would be similarly affected and that deficits in both expression and comprehension of narrative would be related to the same anatomic distribution of prefrontal disease.
We examined 29 LBSD patients and 26 healthy seniors on their comprehension and expression of narrative discourse. For comprehension, we measured accuracy and latency in judging events with high and low associativity from familiar scripts such as “going fishing.” The expression task involved maintaining the connectedness of events while narrating a story from a wordless picture book.
LBSD patients were impaired on measures of narrative organization during both comprehension and expression relative to healthy seniors. Measures of organization during narrative expression and comprehension were significantly correlated with each other. These measures both correlated with executive measures but not with neuropsychological measures of lexical semantics or grammar. Voxel-based morphometry revealed overlapping regressions relating frontal atrophy to narrative comprehension, narrative expression, and measures of executive control.
Difficulty with narrative discourse in LBSD stems in part from a deficit of organization common to comprehension and expression. This deficit is related to prefrontal cortical atrophy in LBSD.
Parkinson’s disease; speech; language; dementia with Lewy bodies
Prior work has related sentence processing to executive deficits in non-demented patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). We extended this investigation to patients with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and PD dementia (PDD) by examining grammatical and working memory components of sentence processing in the full range of patients with Lewy body spectrum disorder (LBSD). Thirty-three patients with LBSD were given a two-alternative, forced-choice sentence-picture matching task. Sentence type, working memory, and grammatical structure were systematically manipulated in the sentences. We found that patients with PDD and DLB were significantly impaired relative to non-demented PD patients and healthy controls. The deficit in PDD/DLB was most pronounced for sentences lengthened by the strategic placement of an additional prepositional phrase and for sentences with an additional proposition due to a center-embedded clause. However, there was no effect for subject-relative versus object-relative grammatical structure. An MRI voxel-based morphometry analysis in a subset of patients showed significant gray matter thinning in the frontal lobe bilaterally, and this extended to temporal, parietal and occipital regions. A regression analysis related sentence processing difficulty in LBSD to frontal neocortex, including inferiorprefrontal, premotor, and dorsolateral prefrontal regions, as well as right superior temporal cortex. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that patients with PDD and DLB have difficulty processing sentences with increased working memory demands and that this deficit is related in part to their frontal disease.
Lewy body; Parkinson’s; sentence processing; working memory; MRI; prefrontal
Few studies have examined connected speech in demented and non-demented patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). We assessed the speech production of 35 patients with Lewy body spectrum disorder (LBSD), including non-demented PD patients, patients with PD dementia (PDD), and patients with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), in a semi-structured narrative speech sample in order to characterize impairments of speech fluency and to determine the factors contributing to reduced speech fluency in these patients. Both demented and non-demented PD patients exhibited reduced speech fluency, characterized by reduced overall speech rate and long pauses between sentences. Reduced speech rate in LBSD correlated with measures of between-utterance pauses, executive functioning, and grammatical comprehension. Regression analyses related non-fluent speech, grammatical difficulty, and executive difficulty to atrophy in frontal brain regions. These findings indicate that multiple factors contribute to slowed speech in LBSD, and this is mediated in part by disease in frontal brain regions.
Parkinson’s disease; speech; language; fluency; dementia with Lewy bodies
Narrative discourse is an essential component of day-to-day communication, but little is known about narrative in Lewy Body spectrum disorder (LBSD), including Parkinson's disease (PD), Parkinson's disease with dementia (PDD), and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). We performed a detailed analysis of a semi-structured speech sample in 32 non-aphasic patients with LBSD, and we related their narrative impairments to gray matter (GM) atrophy using voxel-based morphometry. We found that patients with PDD and DLB have significant difficulty organizing their narrative speech. This was correlated with deficits on measures of executive functioning and speech fluency. Regression analyses associated this deficit with reduced cortical volume in inferior frontal and anterior cingulate regions. These findings are consistent with a model of narrative discourse that includes executive as well as language components and with an impairment of the organizational component of narrative discourse in patients with PDD and DLB.
Parkinson's disease; discourse; speech; language; Dementia with Lewy bodies
We investigated the cognitive and neural bases of impaired speech fluency, a central feature of primary progressive aphasia. Speech fluency was assessed in 35 patients with frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) who presented with progressive non-fluent aphasia (PNFA, n=11), semantic dementia (SemD, n=12), or a social and executive disorder without aphasia (SOC/EXEC, n=12). Fluency was quantified as the number of words per minute in an extended, semi-structured speech sample. This was related to language characteristics of the speech sample and to neuropsychological measures. PNFA patients were significantly less fluent than controls and other FTLD patients. Fluency correlated with grammatical expression but not with speech errors or executive difficulty. SemD and SOC/EXEC patients were also less fluent than controls. In SemD, fluency was associated with semantically limited content. In SOC/EXEC, fluency was associated with executive limitations. Voxel-based morphometry analyses of high-resolution MRI related fluency to gray matter volume in left inferior frontal, insula, and superior temporal regions for the entire cohort of FTLD patients. This region overlapped partially distinct atrophic areas in each FTLD subgroup. It thus appears to play a crucial role in speech fluency, which can be interrupted in different ways in different FTLD subgroups.
frontotemporal dementia; progressive aphasia; MRI; speech fluency
Primary progressive aphasia (PPA), typically resulting from a neurodegenerative disease such as frontotemporal lobar degeneration or Alzheimer’s disease, is characterized by a progressive loss of specific language functions with relative sparing of other cognitive domains. Three variants of PPA are now recognized: semantic variant, logopenic variant, and nonfluent/agrammatic variant. We discuss recent work characterizing the neurolinguistic, neuropsychological, imaging and pathologic profiles associated with these variants. Improved reliability of diagnoses will be increasingly important as trials for etiology-specific treatments become available. We also discuss the implications of these syndromes for theories of language function.
Primary progressive aphasia (PPA); Semantic variant PPA (svPPA); Semantic dementia (SD); Semantic PPA (PPA-S); Logopenic variant PPA (lvPPA); Logopenic progressive aphasia (LPA); Logopenic PPA (PPA-L); Nonfluent/agrammatic variant PPA (navPPA); Progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA); Agrammatic PPA (PPA-G); Frontotemporal dementia (FTD, FTLD); Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
The nature and frequency of speech production errors in neurodegenerative disease have not previously been precisely quantified. In the present study, 16 patients with a progressive form of nonfluent aphasia (PNFA) were asked to tell a story from a wordless children’s picture book. Errors in production were classified as either phonemic, involving language-based deformations that nevertheless result in possible sequences of English speech segments; or phonetic, involving a motor planning deficit and resulting in non-English speech segments. The distribution of cortical atrophy as revealed by structural MRI scans was examined quantitatively in a subset of PNFA patients (N=7). The few errors made by healthy seniors were only phonemic in type. PNFA patients made more than four times as many errors as controls. This included both phonemic and phonetic errors, with a preponderance of errors (82%) classified as phonemic. The majority of phonemic errors were substitutions that shared most distinctive features with the target phoneme. The systematic nature of these substitutions is not consistent with a motor planning deficit. Cortical atrophy was found in prefrontal regions bilaterally and peri-Sylvian regions of the left hemisphere. We conclude that the speech errors produced by PNFA patients are mainly errors at the phonemic level of language processing and are not caused by a motor planning impairment.
Progressive non-fluent aphasia; phonology; speech errors
To investigate the cognitive and neural correlates of discourse impairment in corticobasal syndrome (CBS).
Difficulty communicating is a frequent clinical manifestation in patients with CBS. However, the mechanisms underlying this disabling problem are not well understood.
Twenty patients with CBS and 8 healthy seniors narrated a picture story. Narratives were analyzed for maintenance of the narrative theme, identification of the overall point of the story (global connectedness), and connectedness between consecutive events (local connectedness). Discourse measures were correlated with performance on cognitive tasks and with cortical atrophy as determined by magnetic resonance imaging voxel-based morphometry.
Patients with CBS referred to the narrative theme significantly less frequently than controls. Global connectedness was intact in only 6 of 20 CBS patients (30%), but preserved in all controls. Local connectedness was significantly diminished in patients relative to controls. Discourse performance in CBS was related to tasks requiring higher-order integration of visual material, but not to basic visuospatial/visuoperceptual, language, or memory function. Discourse impairment was directly related to atrophy in the right parietal lobe and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Our findings suggest that impaired information integration in CBS, related to parieto-frontal disease, interferes with patients’ ability to narrate a coherent story.
corticobasal syndrome; volumetric MRI; discourse; inferior parietal lobe; dorsolateral prefrontal cortex