Plasticity of sentence processing networks: evidence from a patient with agrammatic variant of primary progressive aphasia (PPA)

Cynthia K. Thompson*, Elena Barbieri, Jennifer E. Mack, Aaron Wilkins, Kathy Y. Xie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This study reports the results of a longitudinal study examining the effects of treatment for sentence processing deficits for a 70-year-old gentleman (DK) with the agrammatic variant of Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). On entry into the study, he presented with a 2-year history of impaired verb and sentence processing and concomitant neural atrophy in primarily subcortical regions. Spanning an 18-month period, treatment focused on improving comprehension and production of syntactically complex, passive and object cleft, structures, consecutively. Results, derived from extensive behavioral and neurocognitive testing, showed not only improved ability to comprehend and produce both trained and untrained, less complex, linguistically related structures in offline tasks, but also improved online sentence processing strategies as revealed by partially normalized eye movements in online comprehension (i.e., emergence of thematic prediction and thematic integration) and production (i.e., use of incremental processing) tasks. Changes in neural activation from pre- to post-treatment of both structures also were found, with upregulation of tissue in both the left and right hemispheres, overlapping with regions recruited by neurotypical adults performing the same task. These findings indicate that Treatment of Underlying Forms (TUF) is effective for treatment of patients with the agrammatic variant of PPA (as it is for those with stroke-induced agrammatism), and show that unaffected neural tissue in patients with PPA is malleable and may be recruited to support language, providing evidence of experience-based plasticity in neurodegenerative disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-56
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • NP-movement structures
  • Neural plasticity
  • Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)
  • WH-movement structures
  • agrammatic variant of PPA
  • eyetracking
  • functional neuroimaging
  • treatment of Underlying Forms (TUF)
  • visual world paradigms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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