Background: To date, functional imaging studies of treatment-induced recovery from chronic aphasia only assessed short-term treatment effects after intensive language training. In the present study, we show with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that different brain regions may be involved in immediate versus long-term success of intensive language training in chronic post-stroke aphasia patients.
Results: Eight patients were trained daily for three hours over a period of two weeks in naming of concrete objects. Prior to, immediately after, and eight months after training, patients overtly named trained and untrained objects during event-related fMRI. On average the patients improved from zero (at baseline) to 64.4% correct naming responses immediately after training, and treatment success remained highly stable at follow-up. Regression analyses showed that the degree of short-term treatment success was predicted by increased activity (compared to the pretraining scan) bilaterally in the hippocampal formation, the right precuneus and cingulate gyrus, and bilaterally in the fusiform gyri. A different picture emerged for long-term training success, which was best predicted by activity increases in the right-sided Wernicke's homologue and to a lesser degree in perilesional temporal areas.
Conclusion: The results show for the first time that treatment-induced language recovery in the chronic stage after stroke is a dynamic process. Initially, brain regions involved in memory encoding, attention, and multimodal integration mediated treatment success. In contrast, long-term treatment success was predicted mainly by activity increases in the so-called 'classical' language regions. The results suggest that besides perilesional and homologue language-associated regions, functional integrity of domain-unspecific memory structures may be a prerequisite for successful (intensive) language interventions.