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Strengthening speech networks to treat aphasia
Date:2/16/2013

he and her co-authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track neural activation patterns in the brains of 18 healthy volunteers as they spoke English words that had similar sounding "competitors" ("cape" and "gape" differ subtly in the first consonant by voicing, i.e. the timing of the onset of vocal cord vibration). Volunteers also spoke words without similar sounding competitors ("cake" has no voiced competitor in English; gake is not a word). What the researchers found is that neural activation within a network of brain regions was modulated differently when subjects said words that had competitors versus words that did not.

One way this competition-mediated difference is apparent in speech production is that words with competitors are produced differently from words that do not have competitors. For example, the voicing of the "t" in "tot" (with a voiced competitor 'dot') is produced with more voicing than the "t" in "top" (there is no 'dop' in English). Through acoustic analysis of the speech of people with aphasia, Blumstein has shown that this difference persists, suggesting that their word networks are still largely intact.

An experimental therapy

The therapy Blumstein has begun testing takes advantage of what she and colleagues have learned about these networks.

"We believe that although the network infrastructure is relatively spared in aphasia, the word representations themselves aren't as strongly activated as they are in normal subjects, leading to speech production impairments," she said. "Our goal is to strengthen these word representations. In doing so it should not only improve production of trained words, but also have a cascading effect and strengthen the representations of words that are part of that word's network."

Much like physical therapy seeks to restore movement by guiding a patient through particularly crucial motions, Blumstein's therapy is designed to restrengthen how the b
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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