Semantic memory is impaired in patients with unilateral anterior temporal lobe resection for temporal lobe epilepsy

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Contemporary clinical and basic neuroscience studies have increasingly implicated the anterior temporal lobe regions, bilaterally, in the formation of coherent concepts. Mounting convergent evidence for the importance of the anterior temporal lobe in semantic memory is found in patients with bilateral anterior temporal lobe damage (e.g. semantic dementia), functional neuroimaging and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation studies. If this proposal is correct, then one might expect patients with anterior temporal lobe resection for long-standing temporal lobe epilepsy to be semantically impaired. Such patients, however, do not present clinically with striking comprehension deficits but with amnesia and variable anomia, leading some to conclude that semantic memory is intact in resection for temporal lobe epilepsy and thus casting doubt over the conclusions drawn from semantic dementia and linked basic neuroscience studies. Whilst there is a considerable neuropsychological literature on temporal lobe epilepsy, few studies have probed semantic memory directly, with mixed results, and none have undertaken the same type of systematic investigation of semantic processing that has been conducted with other patient groups. In this study, therefore, we investigated the semantic performance of 20 patients with resection for chronic temporal lobe epilepsy with a full battery of semantic assessments, including more sensitive measures of semantic processing. The results provide a bridge between the current clinical observations about resection for temporal lobe epilepsy and the expectations from semantic dementia and other neuroscience findings. Specifically, we found that on simple semantic tasks, the patients' accuracy fell in the normal range, with the exception that some patients with left resection for temporal lobe epilepsy had measurable anomia. Once the semantic assessments were made more challenging, by probing specific-level concepts, lower frequency/more abstract items or measuring reaction times on semantic tasks versus those on difficulty-matched non-semantic assessments, evidence of a semantic impairment was found in all individuals. We conclude by describing a unified, computationally inspired framework for capturing the variable degrees of semantic impairment found across different patient groups (semantic dementia, temporal lobe epilepsy, glioma and stroke) as well as semantic processing in neurologically intact participants. © 2011 The Author.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-258
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012