Separate neural systems support representations for actions and objects during narrative speech in post-stroke aphasia

Neuroimage Clin. 2015 Dec 1:10:140-5. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2015.11.013. eCollection 2016.


Background: Representations of objects and actions in everyday speech are usually materialized as nouns and verbs, two grammatical classes that constitute the core elements of language. Given their very distinct roles in singling out objects (nouns) or referring to transformative actions (verbs), they likely rely on distinct brain circuits.

Method: We tested this hypothesis by conducting network-based lesion-symptom mapping in 38 patients with chronic stroke to the left hemisphere. We reconstructed the individual brain connectomes from probabilistic tractography applied to magnetic resonance imaging and obtained measures of production of words referring to objects and actions from narrative discourse elicited by picture naming tasks.

Results: Words for actions were associated with a frontal network strongly engaging structures involved in motor control and programming. Words for objects, instead, were related to a posterior network spreading across the occipital, posterior inferior temporal, and parietal regions, likely related with visual processing and imagery, object recognition, and spatial attention/scanning. Thus, each of these networks engaged brain areas typically involved in cognitive and sensorimotor experiences equivalent to the function served by each grammatical class (e.g. motor areas for verbs, perception areas for nouns).

Conclusions: The finding that the two major grammatical classes in human speech rely on two dissociable networks has both important theoretical implications for the neurobiology of language and clinical implications for the assessment and potential rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic aphasia due to stroke.

Keywords: Connectome; Diffusion tensor imaging; Discourse; Magnetic resonance imaging; Network-symptom mapping; Nouns; Stroke; Verbs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aphasia / etiology
  • Aphasia / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Connectome
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Speech Production Measurement
  • Speech*
  • Stroke / complications*