Lexicality effects in word and nonword recall of semantic dementia and progressive nonfluent aphasia

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Background: Verbal working memory is an essential component of many language functions, including sentence comprehension and word learning. As such, working memory has emerged as a domain of intense research interest both in aphasiology and in the broader field of cognitive neuroscience. The integrity of verbal working memory encoding relies on a fluid interaction between semantic and phonological processes. That is, we encode verbal detail using many cues related to both the sound and meaning of words. Lesion models can provide an effective means of parsing the contributions of phonological or semantic impairment to recall performance.

Methods & Procedures: We employed the lesion model approach here by contrasting the nature of lexicality errors incurred during recall of word and nonword sequences by three individuals with progressive nonfluent aphasia (a phonological dominant impairment) compared to that of two individuals with semantic dementia (a semantic dominant impairment). We focused on psycholinguistic attributes of correctly recalled stimuli relative to those that elicited a lexicality error (i.e., nonword → word OR word → nonword).

Outcomes & Results: Patients with semantic dementia showed greater sensitivity to phonological attributes (e.g., phoneme length, wordlikeness) of the target items relative to semantic attributes (e.g., familiarity). Patients with PNFA showed the opposite pattern, marked by sensitivity to word frequency, age of acquisition, familiarity, and imageability.

Conclusions: We interpret these results in favour of a processing strategy such that in the context of a focal phonological impairment patients revert to an over-reliance on preserved semantic processing abilities. In contrast, a focal semantic impairment forces both reliance on and hypersensitivity to phonological attributes of target words. We relate this interpretation to previous hypotheses about the nature of verbal short-term memory in progressive aphasia.

Keywords: Aphasia; Progressive nonfluent aphasia; Recall; Semantic dementia; Working memory

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02687038.2011.616926

Affiliations: 1: Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences,University of Florida, Gainesville,FL, USA 2: Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders,Temple University, Philadelphia,PA, USA 3: Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders,New York University, New York,NY, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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