The University of Reading’s Department of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences has uncovered crucial clues to the development of brain dysfunction Wernicke’s aphasia. Commonly caused by strokes, this type of brain damage affects around 250,000 people in the UK and causes severe language impairment.
The University’s researchers found that people suffering from Wernicke’s aphasia responded to language and visual stimuli far better than the control group of non-sufferers.Monitored by MRI scanners, the stroke sufferers’ brains had an increased blood flow to their brains in order to compensate for the stroke damage. The areas which store knowledge about facts, objects, people and words became particularly active during the tasks.
Lead author of the research, Dr Holly Robson, said of the findings: “The results of this study have the potential to turn the tide in the fight against Wernicke’s aphasia. Successful treatment for Wernicke’s aphasia has proved elusive. There are many types of aphasia which makes these conditions very hard to identify and research so group studies like this are a big step forward.
“The results were not what you might expect. All of our participants with Wernicke’s aphasia showed more brain activation than the control group. Intriguingly these changes occurred in brain regions known as the anterior temporal lobes which are thought to support or ‘store’ conceptual knowledge. So these individuals have comprehension impairments yet they can clearly still access their core conceptual knowledge, in some cases relying more on this core knowledge than people without Wernicke’s aphasia. They are taxing their system more to perform the same task.”
It is, however, unclear if this additional blood flow is beneficial or not. Indeed, previous studies suggest that Wernicke aphasia sufferers may not be able to use their conceptual knowledge properly.
Dr Robson later added that “If we can find out that these changes are beneficial, then we will be able to use new neurostimulation techniques and develop new therapies to encourage and support these brain changes. However, if we find out that this activation is not beneficial, then we will know to take a different approach in therapy. Understanding the way the brain changes after a stroke is crucial for the development of successful rehabilitation techniques.”
Funded by the Stroke Association, the research was completed alongside Bangor University and the University of Manchester. Dr Madina Kara, Neuroscientist at the Stroke Association, said: “Aphasia is a devastating speech disorder which affects a third of all stroke survivors, and can change a stroke survivor’s ability to read, write and speak. This pioneering research, funded by the Stroke Association, is a vital step forward in the understanding of Wernicke’s aphasia. These findings will help us develop effective ways to treat patients with this condition, and could help give a voice to stroke survivors living with the speech disorder.
She continues, “We are committed to developing a vibrant and diverse stroke research community, and we are delighted that Dr Robson, a Stroke Association-funded Fellow, is leading this novel research.”