Complex language functions and subcortical mechanisms: evidence from Huntington's disease and patients with non-thalamic subcortical lesions

Int J Lang Commun Disord. Oct-Dec 2002;37(4):459-74. doi: 10.1080/1368282021000007730.


The neuropathological changes associated with Huntington's disease (HD) are most marked in the head of the caudate nucleus and, to a lesser extent, in the putamen and globus pallidus, suggesting that at least part of the language impairments found in patients with HD may result from non-thalamic subcortical (NTS) pathology. The present study aimed to test the hypothesis that a signature profile of impaired language functions is found in patients who have sustained damage to the non-thalamic subcortex, either focally induced or resulting from neurodegenerative pathology. The language abilities of a group of patients with Huntington's disease (n=13) were compared with those of an age- and education-matched group of patients with chronic NTS lesions following stroke (n=13) and a non-neurologically impaired control group (n=13). The three groups were compared on language tasks that assessed both primary and more complex language abilities. The primary language battery consisted of The Western Aphasia Battery and The Boston Naming Test, whilst the more complex cognitive-linguistic battery employed selected subtests from The Test of Language Competence - Expanded, The Test of Word Knowledge and The Word Test - Revised. On many of the tests of primary language function from the Western Aphasia Battery, both the HD and NTS participants performed in a similar manner to the control participants. The language performances of the HD participants were significantly more impaired (p<0.05 using modified Bonferroni adjustments) than the control group, however, on various lexico-semantic tasks (e.g. the Boston Naming Test and providing definitions), on both single-word and sentence-level generative tasks (e.g. category fluency and formulating sentences), and on tasks which required interpretation of ambiguous, figurative and inferential meaning. The difficulties that patients with HD experienced with tasks assessing complex language abilities were strikingly similar, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to the language profile produced by NTS participants. The results provide evidence to suggest that a signature language profile is associated with damage to the non-thalamic subcortex resulting from either focal neurological insult or a degenerative disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / complications
  • Huntington Disease / pathology
  • Huntington Disease / physiopathology*
  • Language Disorders / etiology
  • Language Disorders / pathology
  • Language Disorders / psychology*
  • Language Tests
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke / psychology