Auditory Verb Generation Performance Patterns Dissociate Variants of Primary Progressive Aphasia
Front Psychol. 2022 Jun 24;13:887591. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.887591. eCollection 2022.
Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a clinical syndrome in which patients progressively lose speech and language abilities. Three variants are recognized: logopenic (lvPPA), associated with phonology and/or short-term verbal memory deficits accompanied by left temporo-parietal atrophy; semantic (svPPA), associated with semantic deficits and anterior temporal lobe (ATL) atrophy; non-fluent (nfvPPA) associated with grammar and/or speech-motor deficits and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) atrophy. Here, we set out to investigate whether the three variants of PPA can be dissociated based on error patterns in a single language task. We recruited 21 lvPPA, 28 svPPA, and 24 nfvPPA patients, together with 31 healthy controls, and analyzed their performance on an auditory noun-to-verb generation task, which requires auditory analysis of the input, access to and selection of relevant lexical and semantic knowledge, as well as preparation and execution of speech. Task accuracy differed across the three variants and controls, with lvPPA and nfvPPA having the lowest and highest accuracy, respectively. Critically, machine learning analysis of the different error types yielded above-chance classification of patients into their corresponding group. An analysis of the error types revealed clear variant-specific effects: lvPPA patients produced the highest percentage of "not-a-verb" responses and the highest number of semantically related nouns (production of baseball instead of throw to noun ball); in contrast, svPPA patients produced the highest percentage of "unrelated verb" responses and the highest number of light verbs (production of take instead of throw to noun ball). Taken together, our findings indicate that error patterns in an auditory verb generation task are associated with the breakdown of different neurocognitive mechanisms across PPA variants. Specifically, they corroborate the link between temporo-parietal regions with lexical processing, as well as ATL with semantic processes. These findings illustrate how the analysis of pattern of responses can help PPA phenotyping and heighten diagnostic sensitivity, while providing insights on the neural correlates of different components of language.