Re-learning to be different: Increased neural differentiation supports post-stroke language recovery

Jeremy J. Purcell, Robert W. Wiley, Brenda Rapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Identifying the neural changes that support recovery of cognitive functions after a brain lesion is important to advance our understanding of human neuroplasticity, which, in turn, forms the basis for the development of effective treatments. To date, the preponderance of neuroimaging studies has focused on localizing changes in average brain activity associated with functional recovery. Here, we took a novel approach by evaluating whether cognitive recovery in chronic stroke is related to increases in the differentiation of local neural response patterns. This approach is supported by research indicating that, in the intact brain, local neural representations become more differentiated (dissimilar) with learning (Glezer et al., 2015). We acquired fMRI data before and after 21 individuals received approximately 12 weeks of behavioral treatment for written language impairment due to a left-hemisphere stroke. We used Local-Heterogeneity Regression Analysis (Purcell and Rapp, 2018) to measure local neural response differentiation associated with written language processing, assuming that greater heterogeneity in the pattern of activity across adjacent neural areas indicates more well-differentiated neural representations. First, we observed pre to post-treatment increases in local neural differentiation (Local-Hreg) in the ventral occipital-temporal cortex of the left hemisphere. Second, we found that, in this region, higher local neural response differentiation prior to treatment was associated with less severe written language impairment, and that it also predicted greater future responsiveness to treatment. Third, we observed that changes in neural differentiation were systematically related to performance changes for trained and untrained items. Fourth, we did not observe these brain-behavior relationships for mean BOLD responses, only for Local-Hreg. Thus, this is the first investigation to quantify changes in local neural differentiation in the recovery of a cognitive function and the first to demonstrate the clear behavioral relevance of these changes. We conclude that the findings provide strong support for the novel hypothesis that the local re-differentiation of neural representations can play a significant role in functional recovery after brain lesion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116145
StatePublished - Nov 15 2019


  • Differentiation
  • Dysgraphia
  • Orthography
  • Spelling
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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