Language and cognition researchers at Temple University’s College of Public Health have confirmed how the brain is wired to learn concepts and tested a way to use electricity to improve dementia treatments.
New research from Temple’s Memory, Cognition, and Concepts Laboratory provides empirical evidence about how the brain acquires and represents concepts and may also suggest new avenues for treating debilitating language loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
In the study – funded by the NIH National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and published May 16 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience – Assistant Professor and lead author Dr. Jinyi Hung and associate professor Dr. Jamie Reilly (both in the College of Public Health’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders) collaborated with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map regions of the brain as they responded to visual and auditory representations of simple concepts. They also tracked how each of these regions interacted with one another.
The results suggest that there are core regions of the brain that bind and integrate different components of knowledge and that these “hub” regions interact with other parts of the brain that are active during perception of the same objects. “There is no single part of the brain that represents concepts. Our object knowledge is rich, multimodal, and spread out over a variety of areas. We do know, however, that certain parts of the brain that act as unifying hubs are especially important for representing knowledge,” Dr. Reilly says.
The group performed a companion study of patients suffering from primary progressive aphasia (PPA) concomitant with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia to determine how transcranial direct current stimulation (or tDCS) might affect language therapy used with these patients.
They looked particularly at semantic variant PPA (svPPA), characterized by profound impairments in word and object knowledge (such impairments are associated with degeneration of parts of the ATL) using Dr. Reilly’s treatment protocol for svPPA-related semantic anomia.
The baseline accuracy before the test sessions was 69 percent for trained items and 40 percent for untrained items. After two weeks, accuracy was 77 percent for trained items, 41 percent for untrained items. At the six-month follow-up, accuracy on trained items dipped to 63 percent, untrained items to 26 percent. This suggests that behavioral training combined with tDCS may slow the functionally debilitating symptom of language loss.