The impact of sex and language dominance on material-specific memory before and after left temporal lobe surgery

Brain. 2004 Jul;127(Pt 7):1518-25. doi: 10.1093/brain/awh174. Epub 2004 May 5.


Recent findings raised evidence that in early-onset left temporal lobe epilepsy, women show greater functional plasticity for verbal memory than men. In particular, women with lesion- or epilepsy-driven atypical language dominance show an advantage over men. The question asked in this study was whether there is evidence of sex- and language dominance-dependent late, i.e. adult age, plasticity for verbal memory when epilepsy surgery is performed in these patients. Pre- and 1-year postoperative memory performance was evaluated in 169 patients (94 males and 75 females) who underwent left temporal lobe surgery and who had WADA testing of hemispheric language dominance prior to surgery. Verbal memory and figural memory were assessed by list-learning paradigms. According to the Bonn intracarotid amobarbital test (IAT) protocol, patients were categorized into left dominant or atypically dominant (right, incomplete left or right, and bilateral dominant) groups. Results were controlled for the hypothesized sex differences. Thirty-four percent of men and 47% of women displayed patterns of atypical language dominance. Atypical dominance was related to an early onset of epilepsy. Men showed a larger time window for development of atypical dominance but, differently from women, the pattern of atypical dominance was more strictly determined by the age at onset of epilepsy. Atypically dominant women showed better verbal memory than typically dominant women or men. After surgery, right dominant patients had better verbal memory outcome than patients with bilateral or left language dominance who showed significant memory loss. No effect of sex on verbal memory change was found. Figural memory deteriorated in men and improved in women, when they were not left dominant. Seizure outcome had no effect on performance changes. It was concluded that better preserved verbal memory in atypically dominant women before surgery indicates greater benefit from atypical dominance in women than men with regard to the initial damage associated with left hemisphere epilepsy. Later in life, when epilepsy surgery causes additional damage, no such sex difference is observed, indicating that the women's advantage over men is fixed to an early time window in life. Postoperative changes in figural memory suggest dynamics in crowding and suppression patterns. Whether this reflects late plasticity and compensation needs further demonstration. For clinical practice, it is important to note that incomplete right hemisphere and bilateral language dominance do not protect against verbal memory loss after left-sided temporal lobe surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Epilepsy / psychology*
  • Epilepsy / surgery
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Postoperative Period
  • Temporal Lobe / surgery*
  • Verbal Behavior*