The essential role of the thalamus in neurocognitive processes has been well documented. In contrast, relatively little is known about its involvement in social cognitive processes such as recognition of emotion, mentalizing, or empathy.
The Aim of the Study:
This study was designed to compare the performance of eight patients (five males, three females, mean age ± SD: 63.7±7.9 years) at early stage of unilateral thalamic lesions and eleven healthy controls (six males, five females, 49.6±12.2 years) in neurocognitive tests (CogState Battery: Groton Maze Learning Test, GML; Groton Maze Learning Test-Delayed Recall, GML-DR; Detection Task, DT; Identification Task, IT; One Card Learning Task, OCLT; One Back Task, OBT; Two Back Task, TBT; Set-Shifting Task, S-ST) and other well-known tests (Benton Visual Retention Test, BVRT; California Verbal Learning Test, CVLT; The Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test, ROCF; Trail Making Test, TMT part A and B; Color – Word Stroop Task, CWST; Verbal Fluency Test, VFT), and social cognitive tasks (The Penn Emotion Recognition Test, ER40; Penn Emotion Discrimination Task, EmoDiff40; The Penn Emotional Acuity Test, PEAT40; Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, revised version II; Toronto Alexithymia Scale, TAS-20).
Thalamic-damaged subjects were included if they experienced a single-episode ischemic stroke localized in right or left thalamus. The patients were examined at 3 weeks after the stroke onset. All were right handed. In addition, the following clinical scales were used: the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI II). An inclusion criteria was a minimum score of 23/30 in MMSE.
Compared with the healthy controls, patients revealed significantly lower scores in CVLT, GML-DR, and VFT. Furthermore, compared to healthy controls, patients showed significantly delayed recognition of “happiness” in EmoDiff40 and significantly worse performance on Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, revised version II. Neuropsychological assessment demonstrated some statistically significant deficits in learning and remembering both verbal and visual material, long-term information storing, problem solving, and executive functions such as verbal fluency.
Patients at early stage of unilateral thalamic stroke showed both neurocognitive and social cognitive deficits. Further research is needed to increase understanding about diagnosis, early treatment, and prognosis of patients with thalamic lesions.