Purpose: Several small patient studies and case reports raise concerns that the reliability of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) may be impaired in the vicinity of cerebral lesions. This could affect the clinical validity of fMRI for presurgical language lateralization. The current study sets out to identify if a systematic effect of lesion type and localization on fMRI exists.
Methods: We classify lesions typically occurring in epilepsy patients according to (1) their potential to disturb blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD)-effect generation or detection or to disturb spatial brain normalization, and (2) the proximity of lesions to protocol-specific volumes of interest (VOIs). The effect of lesions is evaluated through the examination of 238 epilepsy patients and a subgroup of 37 patients with suspected unilateral left-language dominance according to the Wada test.
Results: Patients with fMRI-critical lesions such as cavernomas, gliomas, and mass defects close to VOIs, or with severe atrophy, show lower lateralization indices (LIs) and more often discordant language lateralization with the Wada test than do patients without such lesions.
Discussion: This study points seriously toward fMRI-language lateralization being sensitive to cerebral lesions. Some lesion types and locations are more critical than others. Our results question the noncritical application of fMRI in patients with cerebral lesions.