A review of biological interventions in chronic aphasia

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Aphasia is a common and debilitating condition following stroke. While the gold standard for aphasia treatment is behavioral speech-language therapy, benefits remain modest in chronic stages of recovery. This limitation motivates the pursuit of novel interventions for chronic aphasia. Here, we review biological approaches that have been used (or proposed for use, in the case of regenerative and genetic therapies) to treat chronic aphasia. These techniques aim to ameliorate the deficits of aphasia by directly manipulating brain function, rather than training lost or compensatory functions, although many have been used to augment effects of behavioral therapy. Specifically, we explore the most robust designs of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and pharmacotherapy that have been applied in chronic (≥6 months) post-stroke aphasia. We also consider less investigated approaches including epidural cortical stimulation and photobiomodulation. All methods are currently in nascent phases and restricted to experimental studies and clinical trials. Although the evidence base remains limited, such interventions may ultimately improve language function and quality of life for those living with chronic aphasia. However, it is crucial that application of these methods consider the effects of concomitant speech-language therapy, as biological interventions combined with behaviorally induced experience-dependent plasticity will likely yield the most beneficial and durable outcomes.

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