Temporal lobe networks supporting the comprehension of spoken words
Auditory word comprehension is a cognitive process that involves the transformation of auditory signals into abstract concepts. Traditional lesion-based studies of stroke survivors with aphasia have suggested that neocortical regions adjacent to auditory cortex are primarily responsible for word comprehension. However, recent primary progressive aphasia and normal neurophysiological studies have challenged this concept, suggesting that the left temporal pole is crucial for word comprehension. Due to its vasculature, the temporal pole is not commonly completely lesioned in stroke survivors and this heterogeneity may have prevented its identification in lesion-based studies of auditory comprehension. We aimed to resolve this controversy using a combined voxel-based—and structural connectome—lesion symptom mapping approach, since cortical dysfunction after stroke can arise from cortical damage or from white matter disconnection. Magnetic resonance imaging (T1-weighted and diffusion tensor imaging-based structural connectome), auditory word comprehension and object recognition tests were obtained from 67 chronic left hemisphere stroke survivors. We observed that damage to the inferior temporal gyrus, to the fusiform gyrus and to a white matter network including the left posterior temporal region and its connections to the middle temporal gyrus, inferior temporal gyrus, and cingulate cortex, was associated with word comprehension difficulties after factoring out object recognition. These results suggest that the posterior lateral and inferior temporal regions are crucial for word comprehension, serving as a hub to integrate auditory and conceptual processing. Early processing linking auditory words to concepts is situated in posterior lateral temporal regions, whereas additional and deeper levels of semantic processing likely require more anterior temporal regions.