Speech registration in symptomatic memory impairment

Salwa Kamourieh*, Rodrigo M. Braga, Robert Leech, Amrish Mehta, Richard J.S. Wise

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: An inability to recall recent conversations often indicates impaired episodic memory retrieval. It may also reflect a failure of attentive registration of spoken sentences which leads to unsuccessful memory encoding. The hypothesis was that patients complaining of impaired memory would demonstrate impaired function of "multiple demand" (MD) brain regions, whose activation profile generalizes across cognitive domains, during speech registration in naturalistic listening conditions. Methods: Using functional MRI, brain activity was measured in 22 normal participants and 31 patients complaining of memory impairment, 21 of whom had possible or probable Alzheimer's disease (AD). Participants heard a target speaker, either speaking alone or in the presence of distracting background speech, followed by a question to determine if the target speech had been registered. Results: Patients performed poorly at registering verbal information, which correlated with their scores on a screening test of cognitive impairment. Speech registration was associated with widely distributed activity in both auditory cortex and in MD cortex. Additional regions were most active when the target speech had to be separated from background speech. Activity in midline and lateral frontal MD cortex was reduced in the patients. A central cholinesterase inhibitor to increase brain acetylcholine levels in half the patients was not observed to alter brain activity or improve task performance at a second fMRI scan performed 6-11 weeks later. However, individual performances spontaneously fluctuated between the two scanning sessions, and these performance differences correlated with activity within a right hemisphere fronto-temporal system previously associated with sustained auditory attention. Conclusions: Midline and lateralized frontal regions that are engaged in task-dependent attention to, and registration of, verbal information are potential targets for transcranial brain stimulation to improve speech registration in neurodegenerative conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number201
JournalFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 9 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory attention
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • Memory impairment
  • Multiple demand cortex
  • Speech registration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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