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Keywords:

  • verbal semantic memory;
  • word-finding difficulties;
  • temporal lobe epilepsy

Objectives – Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) may determine memory difficulties not explained by episodic memory impairment. The present study was aimed to verify the presence of specific semantic memory dysfunctions in TLE and to explore their relations to epilepsy variables. Subjects and methods – Forty-seven patients with lateralized temporal (n=26) or extra-temporal lobe epilepsy (n=21) and 23 healthy subjects were compared. Picture Naming and Pointing to a Picture were used to explore expressive and receptive vocabulary and the Semantic Questionnaire evaluated semantic judgment of verbally presented items. The Selective Reminding Procedure for word list learning and Story Recall were used to assess episodic memory. Spontaneous speech and the Token Test controlled for language disturbances, and Raven's Coloured Progressive Matrices were used to evaluate abstract reasoning ability. Results – Multivariate analysis of variance of test scores showed significant impairment of semantic memory in patients with left TLE compared to healthy controls, whereas episodic memory was impaired in left temporal and extra-temporal epilepsy (as measured by word learning) and all epilepsy groups (as measured by Story Recall). In the TLE groups, naming abilities were more compromised than single-word comprehension and semantic judgment – which were not significantly affected. No deficits in language abilities or in abstract reasoning were found in any patient group. Factor analysis of memory tests scores in the patients produced two factors, one semantic and the other episodic. Regression analysis revealed that the semantic factor was related to abstract reasoning, left hemisphere lateralization of seizures, and age of seizure onset; while the episodic factor was related to age. Conclusions – Left TLE may determine significant verbal semantic memory compromise, maybe due to impaired access to the semantic-lexical storage. In non-aphasic epilepsy patients, comparison of performance on semantic and episodic memory tests may be useful for assessing the nature of memory failures, and may complement clinical and neurophysiological means for defining the epileptic center.