Objective: This work investigates the nature of the comprehension impairment in Wernicke's aphasia (WA), by examining the relationship between deficits in auditory processing of fundamental, non-verbal acoustic stimuli and auditory comprehension. WA, a condition resulting in severely disrupted auditory comprehension, primarily occurs following a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) to the left temporo-parietal cortex. Whilst damage to posterior superior temporal areas is associated with auditory linguistic comprehension impairments, functional-imaging indicates that these areas may not be specific to speech processing but part of a network for generic auditory analysis.
Methods: We examined analysis of basic acoustic stimuli in WA participants (n = 10) using auditory stimuli reflective of theories of cortical auditory processing and of speech cues. Auditory spectral, temporal and spectro-temporal analysis was assessed using pure-tone frequency discrimination, frequency modulation (FM) detection and the detection of dynamic modulation (DM) in "moving ripple" stimuli. All tasks used criterion-free, adaptive measures of threshold to ensure reliable results at the individual level.
Results: Participants with WA showed normal frequency discrimination but significant impairments in FM and DM detection, relative to age- and hearing-matched controls at the group level (n = 10). At the individual level, there was considerable variation in performance, and thresholds for both FM and DM detection correlated significantly with auditory comprehension abilities in the WA participants.
Conclusion: These results demonstrate the co-occurrence of a deficit in fundamental auditory processing of temporal and spectro-temporal non-verbal stimuli in WA, which may have a causal contribution to the auditory language comprehension impairment. Results are discussed in the context of traditional neuropsychology and current models of cortical auditory processing.
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