Epileptic activity influences the speech organization in medial temporal lobe epilepsy

J. Janszky, H. Jokeit, D. Heinemann, R. Schulz, F. G. Woermann, A. Ebner

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Factors influencing atypical speech lateralization have theoretical importance in understanding the organization and reorganization of higher cognitive functions, as well as having practical implications, especially in brain surgery and neurorehabilitation. Atypical (right-sided or bilateral) language representation is more frequent in focal epilepsy than in healthy people. This difference is thought to be related to early childhood brain injuries localized in the neighbourhood of speech centres. The effect of epileptic activity on speech lateralization has not been investigated, although much data suggest that epileptic activity may interfere with higher brain functions. It can only be evaluated in a homogeneous human population with epilepsy having the same lesion type in the same localization. For these reasons, we investigated 184 patients with medial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) due to unilateral hippocampal sclerosis (HS), but without other epileptogenic lesions. All patients underwent comprehensive presurgical evaluation. In MTLE, the influence of age at the time of brain damage, i.e. the initial precipitating injury (IPI), could be evaluated separately from the other timing factors. Of 100 patients in whom a Wada test was performed, left-sided speech occurred in 76% of the left-sided and in 100% of the right-sided MTLE patients (P < 0.05). For further evaluation, we included only the 83 left-sided MTLE patients. The mean age at seizure onset was 10.1 ± 7.8 years (range 1-37 years); the mean age at evaluation was 35.7 ± 9.8 years. Based on the Wada test, left-sided speech was present in 63 patients, while in 20 (24%) patients the Wada test revealed atypical speech dominance. We found that atypical speech representation in left MTLE was associated with higher spiking frequency (P < 0.05) and with sensory auras representing an ictal involvement of the lateral temporal structures (P < 0.01). Psychic auras suggesting limbic seizure spread showed a significant association with left-sided speech dominance in left MTLE (P < 0.05). Neither age at epilepsy onset, nor age at IPI was associated with atypical speech in left MTLE. Conclusively, we found that in patients with focal epilepsy, not only the known factors, i.e. the age at which the brain injury occurred and its localization, but also the epileptic activity itself, i.e. interictal discharges and seizure spread, may influence speech reorganization. Our findings also suggest that not only structural elements but also functional factors have an effect on the language organization of the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2043-2051
Number of pages9
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2003


  • Interictal epileptiform discharges
  • Language reorganization
  • Mesial temporal lobe epilepsy
  • Seizure spread

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology

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    Janszky, J., Jokeit, H., Heinemann, D., Schulz, R., Woermann, F. G., & Ebner, A. (2003). Epileptic activity influences the speech organization in medial temporal lobe epilepsy. Brain, 126(9), 2043-2051. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awg193