While it has long been recognized that certain areas in the brain's left hemisphere enable us to understand and produce language, scientists are still figuring out exactly how those areas divvy up the highly complex processes necessary to comprehend and produce language.
Advances in brain imaging made within the last 10 years have revealed that highly complex cognitive tasks such as language processing rely not only on particular regions of the cerebral cortex, but also on the white matter fiber pathways that connect them.
"With this new technology, scientists started to realize that in the language network, there are a lot more connecting pathways than we originally thought," said Stephen Wilson, who recently joined the University of Arizona's department of speech, language and hearing sciences as an assistant professor. "They are likely to have different functions because the brain is not just a homogeneous conglomerate of cells, but there hasn't been a lot of evidence as to what kind of information is carried on the different pathways."
Working in collaboration with his colleagues at the UA, the department of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco and the Scientific Institute and University Hospital San Raffaele in Milan, Italy, Wilson discovered that not only are the connecting pathways important for language processing, but they specialize in different tasks.
Two brain areas called Broca's region and Wernicke's region serve as the main computing hubs underlying language processing, with dense bundles of nerve fibers linking the two, much like fiber optic cables connecting computer servers. But while it was known that Broca's and Wernicke's region are connected by upper and a lower white matter pathways, most research had focused on the nerve cells clustered inside the two language-processing regions themselves.
Working with patients suffering from language impairments because of a variety of ne
|Contact: Daniel Stolte|
University of Arizona