In this study the N400 component of the event-related potential was used to investigate spoken sentence understanding in Broca's and Wernicke's aphasics. The aim of the study was to determine whether spoken sentence comprehension problems in these patients might result from a deficit in the on-line integration of lexical information. Subjects listened to sentences spoken at a normal rate. In half of these sentences, the meaning of the final word of the sentence matched the semantic specifications of the preceding sentence context. In the other half of the sentences, the sentence-final word was anomalous with respect to the preceding sentence context. The N400 was measured to the sentence-final words in both conditions. The results for the aphasic patients (n = 14) were analyzed according to the severity of their comprehension deficit and compared to a group of 12 neurologically unimpaired age-matched controls, as well as a group of 6 nonaphasic patients with a lesion in the right hemisphere. The nonaphasic brain damaged patients and the aphasic patients with a light comprehension deficit (high comprehenders, n = 7) showed an N400 effect that was comparable to that of the neurologically unimpaired subjects. In the aphasic patients with a moderate to severe comprehension deficit (low comprehenders, n = 7), a reduction and delay of the N400 effect was obtained. In addition, the P300 component was measured in a classical oddball paradigm, in which subjects were asked to count infrequent low tones in a random series of high and low tones. No correlation was found between the occurrence of N400 and P300 effects, indicating that changes in the N400 results were related to the patients' language deficit. Overall, the pattern of results was compatible with the idea that aphasic patients with moderate to severe comprehension problems are impaired in the integration of lexical information into a higher order representation of the preceding sentence context.

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