BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: In medically refractory temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), 30-50% of patients experience substantial language decline following resection in the language dominant hemisphere. Here, we investigate the contribution of white matter fiber bundle damage to language change at 3- and 12-months after surgery.
METHODS: We studied 127 patients who underwent TLE surgery from 2010-2019. Neuropsychological testing included picture naming, semantic, and phonemic verbal fluency, performed pre-operatively, 3- and 12-months post-operatively. Outcome was assessed using reliable change index (RCI; clinically significant decline) and change across timepoints (post- minus pre-operative scores).Functional MRI was used to determine language lateralization. The arcuate (AF), inferior fronto-occipital (IFOF), inferior longitudinal, middle longitudinal (MLF), and uncinate fasciculi were mapped using diffusion MRI probabilistic tractography. Resection masks, drawn comparing co-registered pre- and post-operative T1 MRI scans, were used as exclusion regions on pre-operative tractography to estimate the percentage of pre-operative tracts transected in surgery. Chi-squared assessments evaluated the occurrence of RCI-determined language decline. Independent samples T-tests and MM-estimator robust regressions were used to assess the impact of clinical factors and fiber transection on RCI and change outcomes, respectively.
RESULTS: Language dominant and non-dominant resections were treated separately for picture naming, as post-operative outcomes were significantly different between these groups. In language dominant hemisphere resections, greater surgical damage to the AF and IFOF was related to RCI-decline at 3 months. Damage to the inferior frontal sub-fasciculus of the IFOF was related to change at 3 months. In language non-dominant hemisphere resections, increased MLF resection was associated with RCI-decline at 3 months, and damage to the anterior sub-fasciculus was related to change at 3 months.Language dominant and non-dominant resections were treated as one cohort for semantic and phonemic fluency, as there were no significant differences in post-operative decline between these groups. Post-operative seizure freedom was associated with an absence of significant language decline 12 months after surgery for semantic fluency.
DISCUSSION: We demonstrate a relationship between fiber transection and naming decline after temporal lobe resection. Individualized surgical planning to spare white matter fiber bundles could help to preserve language function after surgery.