Foreign accent syndrome: A multimodal evaluation in the search of neuroscience-driven treatments


Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a rare condition which is placed in the mildest end of the spectrum of speech disorders. The impairment, not severe enough to elicit phonological errors, is associated with various alterations in the fine execution of speech sounds which cause the impression of foreignness. There is a growing interest in the study of linguistic and paralinguistic components, psychosocial aftermaths, and neural basis of FAS, but there are not yet neuroscience-driven treatments for this condition. A multimodal evaluation was conducted in a single patient with the aim of searching for clues which may assist to design neuroscience-driven therapies. The patient was a middle-aged bilingual woman who had chronic FAS. She had segmental deficits, abnormal production of linguistic and emotional prosody, impaired verbal communication, and reduced motivation and social engagement. Magnetic resonance imaging showed bilateral small lesions mainly affecting the left deep frontal operculum and dorsal anterior insula. Diffusion tensor tractography suggested disrupted left deep frontal operculum-anterior insula connectivity. Metabolic activity measured with positron emission tomography was primarily decreased in key components of networks implicated in planning and execution of speech production, cognitive control and emotional communication (Brodmann’s areas 4/6/9/10/13/25/47, basal ganglia, and anterior cerebellar vermis). Compensatory increases of metabolic activity were found in cortical areas (left anterior cingulate gyrus, left superior temporal gyrus and right prefrontal cortex) associated with feedback and focal attention processes critical for monitoring and adjustment of verbal utterances. Moreover, bilateral structural and functional abnormalities probably interrupted the trajectory of the lateral and medial cholinergic pathways causing region-specific hypoactivity. The results from this study provide targets for further investigation and some clues to design therapeutic interventions.