Sentence processing and verbal working memory in a white-matter-disconnection patient

Neuropsychologia. 2014 Aug;61:190-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.06.014. Epub 2014 Jun 20.


The Arcuate Fasciculus/Superior Longitudinal Fasciculus (AF/SLF) is the white-matter bundle that connects posterior superior temporal and inferior frontal cortex. Its causal functional role in sentence processing and verbal working memory is currently under debate. While impairments of sentence processing and verbal working memory often co-occur in patients suffering from AF/SLF damage, it is unclear whether these impairments result from shared white-matter damage to the verbal-working-memory network. The present study sought to specify the behavioral consequences of focal AF/SLF damage for sentence processing and verbal working memory, which were assessed in a single patient suffering from a cleft-like lesion spanning the deep left superior temporal gyrus, sparing most surrounding gray matter. While tractography suggests that the ventral fronto-temporal white-matter bundle is intact in this patient, the AF/SLF was not visible to tractography. In line with the hypothesis that the AF/SLF is causally involved in sentence processing, the patient׳s performance was selectively impaired on sentences that jointly involve both complex word orders and long word-storage intervals. However, the patient was unimpaired on sentences that only involved long word-storage intervals without involving complex word orders. On the contrary, the patient performed generally worse than a control group across standard verbal-working-memory tests. We conclude that the AF/SLF not only plays a causal role in sentence processing, linking regions of the left dorsal inferior frontal gyrus to the temporo-parietal region, but moreover plays a crucial role in verbal working memory, linking regions of the left ventral inferior frontal gyrus to the left temporo-parietal region. Together, the specific sentence-processing impairment and the more general verbal-working-memory impairment may imply that the AF/SLF subserves both sentence processing and verbal working memory, possibly pointing to the AF and SLF respectively supporting each.

Keywords: Arcuate fasciculus; Disconnection syndrome; Sentence processing; Superior longitudinal fasciculus; Verbal working memory.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Speech Perception*
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology*