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J Neurosci. 2011 Mar 2;31(9):3344-50. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5544-10.2011.

Anatomy of language impairments in primary progressive aphasia.

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Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Northwestern University (NU) Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA.


Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a clinical dementia syndrome characterized by progressive decline in language function but relative sparing of other cognitive domains. There are three recognized PPA variants: agrammatic, semantic, and logopenic. Although each PPA subtype is characterized by the nature of the principal deficit, individual patients frequently display subtle impairments in additional language domains. The present study investigated the distribution of atrophy related to performance in specific language domains (i.e., grammatical processing, semantic processing, fluency, and sentence repetition) across PPA variants to better understand the anatomical substrates of language. Results showed regionally specific relationships, primarily in the left hemisphere, between atrophy and impairments in language performance. Most notable was the neuroanatomical distinction between fluency and grammatical processing. Poor fluency was associated with regions dorsal to the traditional boundaries of Broca's area in the inferior frontal sulcus and the posterior middle frontal gyrus, whereas grammatical processing was associated with more widespread atrophy, including the inferior frontal gyrus and supramarginal gyrus. Repetition performance was correlated with atrophy in the posterior superior temporal gyrus. The correlation of atrophy with semantic processing impairment was localized to the anterior temporal poles. Atrophy patterns were more closely correlated with domain-specific performance than with subtype. These results show that PPA reflects a selective disruption of the language network as a whole, with no rigid boundaries between subtypes. Further, these atrophy patterns reveal anatomical correlates of language that could not have been surmised in patients with aphasia resulting from cerebrovascular lesions.

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