A fMRI study of word retrieval in aphasia

D. Perani, S. F. Cappa, M. Tettamanti, M. Rosa, P. Scifo, A. Miozzo, A. Basso, F. Fazio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The neural mechanisms underlying recovery of cognitive functions are incompletely understood. Aim of this study was to assess, using functional magnetic resonance (fMRI), the pattern of brain activity during covert word retrieval to letter and semantic cues in five aphasic patients after stroke, in order to assess the modifications of brain function which may be related to recovery. Four out of five patients had undergone language recovery, according to standard testing, after at least 6 months of rehabilitation. The cerebral activation of each patient was evaluated and compared with the activation pattern of normal controls studied with the same fMRI paradigm. In the patients, the pattern of brain activation was influenced by the site and extent of the lesion, by the degree of recovery of language, as reflected by task performance outside the scanner, and by task requirements. In the case of word retrieval to letter cues, a good performance was directly related to the activation in Broca's area, or in the right-sided homologue. On the other hand, in the case of semantic fluency, the relationship between performance level and activation was less clear-cut, because of extensive recruitment of frontal areas in patients with defective performance. These findings suggest that the performance in letter fluency is dependent on the integrity of the left inferior frontal cortex, with the participation of the homologous right hemispheric region when the left inferior frontal cortex is entirely of partially damaged. Semantic fluency, which engages the distributed network of semantic memory, is also associated with more extensive patterns of cerebral activation, which however appear to reflect retrieval effort rather than retrieval success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-368
Number of pages12
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2003


  • Aphasia
  • fMRI
  • Recovery
  • Verbal fluency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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