A systematic linguistic profile of spontaneous narrative speech in pre-symptomatic and early stage Huntington’s disease

A systematic linguistic profile of spontaneous narrative speech in pre-symptomatic and early stage Huntington’s disease

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 71-83

“Cognitive decline accompanying the clinically more salient motor symptoms of Huntington’s disease (HD) has been widely noted and can precede motor symptoms onset. Less clear is how such decline bears on language functions in everyday life, though a small number of experimental studies have revealed difficulties with the application of rule-based aspects of language in early stages of the disease. Here we aimed to determine whether there is a systematic linguistic profile that characterizes spontaneous narrative speech in both pre-manifest and/or early manifest HD, and how it is related to striatal degeneration and neuropsychological profiles. Twenty-eight early-stage patients (19 manifest and 9 gene-carriers in the pre-manifest stage), matched with 28 controls, participated in a story-telling task. Speech was blindly scored by independent raters according to fine-grained linguistic variables distributed over 5 domains for which composite scores were computed (Quantitative, Fluency, Reference, Connectivity, and Concordance). Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) was used to link specific brain degeneration patterns to loci of linguistic decline. In all of these domains, significant differences were observed between groups. Deficits in Reference and Connectivity were seen in the pre-manifest stage, where no other neuropsychological impairment was detected. Among HD patients, there was a significant positive correlation only between the values in the Quantitative domain and gray matter volume bilaterally in the putamen and pallidum. These results fill the gap of qualitative data of spontaneous narrative speech in HD and reveal that HD is characterized by systematic linguistic impairments leading to dysfluencies and disorganization in core domains of grammatical organization. This includes the referential use of noun phrases and the embedding of clauses, which mediate crucial dimensions of meaning in language in its normal social use. Moreover, such impairment is seen prior to motor symptoms onset and when standardized neuropsychological test profiles are otherwise normal.”

Written by: Wolfram Hinzen, Joana Rossello, Cati Morey, Estela Camara, Clara Garcia-Gorro, Raymond Salvador, Ruth de Diego-Balaguer
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.07.022

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