Damage to the thalamus may affect cognition and language, but the underlying mechanism remains unknown. In particular, it remains a riddle why thalamic aphasia occasionally occurs and then mostly recovers to some degree. To explore the mechanism of the affected cognition and language, we used two neuroimaging techniques—single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), suitable for viewing the affected brain distribution after acute thalamic stroke, and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (f-NIRS), focusing on hemodynamic responses of the supplementary motor area (SMA) responsible for speech production in conjunction with the frontal aslant tract (FAT) pathway. SPECT yielded common perfusion abnormalities not only in the fronto–parieto–cerebellar loop, but also in the SMA, IFG and surrounding language-relevant regions. In NIRS sessions during a phonemic verbal fluency task, we found significant word retrieval decline in acute thalamic patients relative to age-matched healthy volunteers. Further, NIRS showed strong correlation between word retrieval and posterior SMA responses. In addition, follow-up NIRS exhibited increased bilateral SMA responses linked to improving word retrieval ability. The findings suggest that cognitive dysfunction may be related to the fronto–parieto–cerebellar loop, while language dysfunction is attributed to the SMA, IFG and language-related brain areas. SMA may contribute to the recovery of word retrieval difficulty and aphasia after thalamic stroke.
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