New research offers rehabilitation hope for stroke sufferers

March 14, 2014
New research offers rehabilitation hope for stroke sufferers

(Medical Xpress)—A University of Reading research team has made a huge step forward in understanding in one of the rarest language disorders caused by strokes.

Dr Holly Robson found that the brains of people suffering with Wernicke's responded significantly more to visual and language tests than those of non-sufferers. In some regions of the brain this increase in blood flow to the brain was over 10 times more in the Wernicke's group than in the .

These paradoxical findings could pave the way for new treatments and research avenues in aphasia.

Wernicke's is a rare and devastating type of aphasia - a language disorder impairment caused by which affects an estimated 250,000 people in the UK. Aphasia causes life-changing language problems including the ability to read, take part in conversations and enjoy radio and television. As stroke survival rates increase the number of sufferers is also rising and there is currently no effective treatment for Wernicke's.

This research, which was funded by the Stroke Association and conducted with the University of Manchester and Bangor University, is the biggest ever neuroimaging study of Wernicke's aphasia. The researchers asked 12 individuals with Wernicke's aphasia and 12 age-matched control participants to make conceptual judgments about pictures and words while undergoing functional MRI scanning. The scanning revealed where blood was flowing in the brain and which brain regions were responding during this task.

The results were striking. Although the individuals with Wernicke's aphasia were considerably impaired, the researchers found that their brains were responding more than individuals not affected by stroke. Importantly, many of these increased neural responses were found in the region of the brain which is used for our knowledge of objects, people, words and facts.

Dr Holly Robson, from the University of Reading's Department of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences and lead author of the study, said: "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.

The researchers know from previous studies that people with Wernicke's aphasia might not be able to use their conceptual knowledge correctly. This poses the question of whether this over activation is helpful or hindering.

Dr Robson concluded: "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 changes after a stroke is crucial for the development of successful rehabilitation techniques."

Dr Madina Kara, Neuroscientist at the Stroke Association, said: "Aphasia is a devastating speech disorder which affects a third of all , 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.

"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."

Explore further: Post-stroke language impairment adds thousands to medical costs

More information: Holly Robson, Roland Zahn, James L. Keidel, Richard J. Binney, Karen Sage, and Matthew A. Lambon Ralph "The anterior temporal lobes support residual comprehension in Wernicke's aphasia." Brain (2014) 137 (3): 931-943 first published online February 10, 2014 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awt373

Related Stories

New treatments may help restore speech lost to aphasia

September 28, 2012

(HealthDay)—Most people know the frustration of having a word on the "tip of your tongue" that they simply can't remember. But that passing nuisance can be an everyday occurrence for someone with aphasia, a communication ...

Teaching the brain to speak again

February 16, 2013

Cynthia Thompson, a world-renowned researcher on stroke and brain damage, will discuss her groundbreaking research on aphasia and the neurolinguistic systems it affects Feb. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.