Background: The mismatch negativity (MMN) is a fronto-centrally distributed event-related potential (ERP) that is elicited by any discriminable auditory change. It is an ideal neurophysiological tool for measuring the auditory processing skills of individuals with aphasia because it can be elicited even in the absence of attention. Previous MMN studies have shown that acoustic processing of tone or pitch deviance is relatively preserved in aphasia, whereas the basic acoustic processing of speech stimuli can be impaired (e.g., auditory discrimination). However, no MMN study has yet investigated the higher levels of auditory processing, such as language-specific phonological and/or lexical processing, in individuals with aphasia.
Aims: The aim of the current study was to investigate the MMN response of normal and language-disordered subjects to tone stimuli and speech stimuli that incorporate the basic auditory processing (acoustic, acoustic-phonetic) levels of non-speech and speech sound processing, and also the language-specific phonological and lexical levels of spoken word processing. Furthermore, this study aimed to correlate the aphasic MMN data with language performance on a variety of tasks specifically targeted at the different levels of spoken word processing.
Methods M Procedures: Six adults with aphasia (71.7 years +/- 3.0) and six healthy age-, gender-, and education-matched controls (72.2 years +/- 5.4) participated in the study. All subjects were right-handed and native speakers of English. Each subject was presented with complex harmonic tone stimuli, differing in pitch or duration, and consonant-vowel (CV) speech stimuli (non-word /de:/versus real world/deI/). The probability of the deviant for each tone or speech contrast was 10%. The subjects were also presented with the same stimuli in behavioural discrimination tasks, and were administered a language assessment battery to measure their auditory comprehension skills.
Outcomes O Results: The aphasic subjects demonstrated attenuated MMN responses to complex tone duration deviance and to speech stimuli (words and non-words), and their responses to the frequency, duration, and real word deviant stimuli were found to strongly correlate with performance on the auditory comprehension section of the Western Aphasia Battery (WAB). Furthermore, deficits in attentional lexical decision skills demonstrated by the aphasic subjects correlated with a word-related enhancement demonstrated during the automatic MMN paradigm, providing evidence to support the "word advantage effect", thought to reflect the activation of language-specific memory traces in the brain for words.
Conclusions: These results indicate that the MMN may be used as a technique for investigating general and more specific auditory comprehension skills of individuals with aphasia, using speech and/or non-speech stimuli, independent of the individual's attention. The combined use of the objective MMN technique and current clinical language assessments may result in improved rehabilitative management of aphasic individuals.