Aphasia after middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke shows highly variable degrees of recovery. One possible explanation may be offered by the variability of the occlusion location. Branches from the proximal portion of the MCA often supply the mesial temporal lobe including parts of the hippocampus, a structure known to be involved in language learning. Therefore, we assessed whether language recovery in chronic aphasia is dependent on the proximity of the MCA infarct and correlated with the integrity of the hippocampus and its surrounding white matter. Language reacquisition capability was determined after 2weeks of intensive language therapy and 8months after treatment in ten chronic aphasia patients. Proximity of MCA occlusion relative to the internal carotid artery was determined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) based on the most proximal anatomical region infarcted. Structural damage to the hippocampus was assessed by MRI-based volumetry, regional microstructural integrity of hippocampus adjacent white matter by fractional anisotropy. Language learning success for trained materials was correlated with the proximity of MCA occlusion, microstructural integrity of the left hippocampus and its surrounding white matter, but not with lesion size, overall microstructural brain integrity and a control region outside of the MCA territory. No correlations were found for untrained language materials, underlining the specificity of our results for training-induced recovery. Our results suggest that intensive language therapy success in chronic aphasia after MCA stroke is critically dependent on damage to the hippocampus and its surrounding structures.
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