Background: In addition to the typical motor symptoms, a majority of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease experience language impairments. Deep Brain Stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus robustly reduces motor dysfunction, but its impact on language skills remains ambiguous.
Method: To elucidate the impact of subthalamic deep brain stimulation on natural language production, we systematically analyzed language samples from fourteen individuals (three female / eleven male, average age 66.43 ± 7.53 years) with Parkinson's disease in the active (ON) versus inactive (OFF) stimulation condition. Significant ON-OFF differences were considered as stimulation effects. To localize their neuroanatomical origin within the subthalamic nucleus, they were correlated with the volume of tissue activated by therapeutic stimulation.
Results: Word and clause production speed increased significantly under active stimulation. These enhancements correlated with the volume of tissue activated within the associative part of the subthalamic nucleus, but not with that within the dorsolateral motor part, which again correlated with motor improvement. Language error rates were lower in the ON vs. OFF condition, but did not correlate with electrode localization. No significant changes in further semantic or syntactic language features were detected in the current study.
Conclusion: The findings point towards a facilitation of executive language functions occurring rather independently from motor improvement. Given the presumed origin of this stimulation effect within the associative part of the subthalamic nucleus, this could be due to co-stimulation of the prefrontal-subthalamic circuit.