The cognitive and neural underpinnings of discourse coherence in post-stroke aphasia.

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Although impaired discourse production is one of the prominent features of aphasia, only a handful of investigations have addressed the cognitive, linguistic and neural processes that support the production of coherent discourse. In this study, we investigated the cognitive and neural correlates of discourse coherence in a large mixed cohort of patients with post-stroke aphasia, including the first voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping of coherence deficits. Discourse responses using different tasks were collected from 46 patients with post-stroke aphasia, including a wide range of classifications and severity levels, and 20 matched neuro-typical controls. Global coherence, defined as the degree to which utterances related to the expected topic of discourse, was estimated using a previously validated computational linguistic approach. Coherence was then related to fundamental language and cognitive components in aphasia identified using an extensive neuropsychological battery. Relative to neuro-typical controls, patients with aphasia exhibited impaired coherence, and their ability to maintain coherent discourse was related to their performance on other language components: phonological production, fluency and semantic processing, rather than executive functions or motor speech. These results suggest that impairments in core language components play a role in reducing discourse coherence in post-stroke aphasia. Whole-brain voxel-wise lesion-symptom mapping using univariate and multivariate approaches identified the contribution of the left prefrontal cortex, and particularly the inferior frontal gyrus (pars triangularis), to discourse coherence. These findings provide convergent evidence for the role of the inferior frontal gyrus in maintaining discourse coherence, which is consistent with the established role of this region in producing connected speech and semantic control (organizing and selecting appropriate context-relevant concepts). These results make an important contribution to understanding the root causes of disrupted discourse production in post-stroke aphasia.

aphasia, discourse coherence, executive functions, lesion-symptom mapping, prefrontal cortex
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Brain Commun
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Oxford University Press (OUP)
MRC (MR/V031481/1)