Training verb argument structure production in agrammatic aphasia: Behavioral and neural recovery patterns

Cynthia K. Thompson, Ellyn A. Riley, Dirk Bart den Ouden, Aya Meltzer-Asscher, Sladjana Lukic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Introduction: Neuroimaging and lesion studies indicate a left hemisphere network for verb and verb argument structure processing, involving both frontal and temporoparietal brain regions. Although their verb comprehension is generally unimpaired, it is well known that individuals with agrammatic aphasia often present with verb production deficits, characterized by an argument structure complexity hierarchy, indicating faulty access to argument structure representations for production and integration into syntactic contexts. Recovery of verb processing in agrammatism, however, has received little attention and no studies have examined the neural mechanisms associated with improved verb and argument structure processing. In the present study we trained agrammatic individuals on verbs with complex argument structure in sentence contexts and examined generalization to verbs with less complex argument structure. The neural substrates of improved verb production were examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Methods: Eight individuals with chronic agrammatic aphasia participated in the study (four experimental and four control participants). Production of three-argument verbs in active sentences was trained using a sentence generation task emphasizing the verb's argument structure and the thematic roles of sentential noun phrases. Before and after training, production of trained and untrained verbs was tested in naming and sentence production and fMRI scans were obtained, using an action naming task. Results: Significant pre- to post-training improvement in trained and untrained (one- and two-argument) verbs was found for treated, but not control, participants, with between-group differences found for verb naming, production of verbs in sentences, and production of argument structure. fMRI activation derived from post-treatment compared to pre-treatment scans revealed upregulation in cortical regions implicated for verb and argument structure processing in healthy controls. Conclusions: Training verb deficits emphasizing argument structure and thematic role mapping is effective for improving verb and sentence production and results in recruitment of neural networks engaged for verb and argument structure processing in healthy individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2358-2376
Number of pages19
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Agrammatic aphasia
  • Aphasia treatment
  • FMRI
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Verb argument structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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