Differentiating hemispheric contributions to syntax and semantics in patients with left-hemisphere lesions.


Understanding the relationship between brain and cognition critically depends on data from brain-damaged patients since these provide major constraints on identifying the essential components of brain-behavior systems. Here we relate structural and functional fMRI data with behavioral data in 21 human patients with chronic left hemisphere (LH) lesions and a range of language impairments to investigate the controversial issue of the role of the hemispheres in different language functions. We address this issue within a dual neurocognitive model of spoken language comprehension in which core linguistic functions, e.g., syntax, depend critically upon an intact left frontotemporal system, whereas more general communicative abilities, e.g., semantics, are supported by a bilateral frontotemporal system and may recover from LH damage through normal or enhanced activity in the intact right hemisphere. The fMRI study used a word-monitoring task that differentiated syntactic and semantic aspects of sentence comprehension. We distinguished overlapping interactions between structure, neural activity, and performance using joint independent components analysis, identifying two structural-functional networks, each with a distinct relationship with performance. Syntactic performance correlated with tissue integrity and activity in a left frontotemporal network. Semantic performance correlated with activity in right superior/middle temporal gyri regardless of tissue integrity. Right temporal activity did not differ between patients and controls, suggesting that the semantic network is degenerately organized, with regions in both hemispheres able to perform similar computations. Our findings support the dual neurocognitive model of spoken language comprehension and emphasize the importance of linguistic specificity in investigations of language recovery in patients.