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Brain. 2013 Nov;136(Pt 11):3451-60. doi: 10.1093/brain/awt267. Epub 2013 Oct 15.

Damage to the anterior arcuate fasciculus predicts non-fluent speech production in aphasia.

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1 The Aphasia Lab, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of South Carolina, 915 Greene St., Columbia, SC 29208, USA.


Non-fluent aphasia implies a relatively straightforward neurological condition characterized by limited speech output. However, it is an umbrella term for different underlying impairments affecting speech production. Several studies have sought the critical lesion location that gives rise to non-fluent aphasia. The results have been mixed but typically implicate anterior cortical regions such as Broca's area, the left anterior insula, and deep white matter regions. To provide a clearer picture of cortical damage in non-fluent aphasia, the current study examined brain damage that negatively influences speech fluency in patients with aphasia. It controlled for some basic speech and language comprehension factors in order to better isolate the contribution of different mechanisms to fluency, or its lack. Cortical damage was related to overall speech fluency, as estimated by clinical judgements using the Western Aphasia Battery speech fluency scale, diadochokinetic rate, rudimentary auditory language comprehension, and executive functioning (scores on a matrix reasoning test) in 64 patients with chronic left hemisphere stroke. A region of interest analysis that included brain regions typically implicated in speech and language processing revealed that non-fluency in aphasia is primarily predicted by damage to the anterior segment of the left arcuate fasciculus. An improved prediction model also included the left uncinate fasciculus, a white matter tract connecting the middle and anterior temporal lobe with frontal lobe regions, including the pars triangularis. Models that controlled for diadochokinetic rate, picture-word recognition, or executive functioning also revealed a strong relationship between anterior segment involvement and speech fluency. Whole brain analyses corroborated the findings from the region of interest analyses. An additional exploratory analysis revealed that involvement of the uncinate fasciculus adjudicated between Broca's and global aphasia, the two most common kinds of non-fluent aphasia. In summary, the current results suggest that the anterior segment of the left arcuate fasciculus, a white matter tract that lies deep to posterior portions of Broca's area and the sensory-motor cortex, is a robust predictor of impaired speech fluency in aphasic patients, even when motor speech, lexical processing, and executive functioning are included as co-factors. Simply put, damage to those regions results in non-fluent aphasic speech; when they are undamaged, fluent aphasias result.


aphasia; arcuate fasciculus; non-fluent speech; speech production; uncinate fasciculus

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