Working Memory Deficits After Lesions Involving the Supplementary Motor Area.
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Cañas A, Juncadella M, Lau R, Gabarrós A and Hernández M (2018) Working Memory Deficits After Lesions Involving the Supplementary Motor Area. Front. Psychol. 9:765. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00765
The Supplementary Motor Area (SMA)—located in the superior and medial aspects of the superior frontal gyrus—is a preferential site of certain brain tumors and arteriovenous malformations, which often provoke the so-called SMA syndrome. The bulk of the literature studying this syndrome has focused on two of its most apparent symptoms: contralateral motor and speech deficits. Surprisingly, little attention has been given to working memory (WM) even though neuroimaging studies have implicated the SMA in this cognitive process. Given its relevance for higher-order functions, our main goal was to examine whether WM is compromised in SMA lesions. We also asked whether WM deficits might be reducible to processing speed (PS) difficulties. Given the connectivity of the SMA with prefrontal regions related to executive control (EC), as a secondary goal we examined whether SMA lesions also hampered EC. To this end, we tested 12 patients with lesions involving the left (i.e., the dominant) SMA. We also tested 12 healthy controls matched with patients for socio-demographic variables. To ensure that the results of this study can be easily transferred and implemented in clinical practice, we used widely-known clinical neuropsychological tests: WM and PS were measured with their respective Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale indexes, and EC was tested with phonemic and semantic verbal fluency tasks. Non-parametric statistical methods revealed that patients showed deficits in the executive component of WM: they were able to sustain information temporarily but not to mentally manipulate this information. Such WM deficits were not subject to patients’ marginal PS impairment. Patients also showed reduced phonemic fluency, which disappeared after controlling for the influence of WM. This observation suggests that SMA damage does not seem to affect cognitive processes engaged by verbal fluency other than WM. In conclusion, WM impairment needs to be considered as part of the SMA syndrome. These findings represent the first evidence about the cognitive consequences (other than language) of damage to the SMA. Further research is needed to establish a more specific profile of WM impairment in SMA patients and determine the consequences of SMA damage for other cognitive functions.