Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New analysis reveals clearer picture of brain’s language areas

Date:
May 23, 2010
Source:
McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Summary:
Language is a defining aspect of what makes us human. Although some brain regions are known to be associated with language, neuroscientists have had a surprisingly difficult time using brain imaging technology to understand exactly what these 'language areas' are doing. Neuroscientists now report on a new method to analyze brain imaging data -- one that may paint a clearer picture of how our brain produces and understands language.

Sample brain activations of a left frontal language area in three subjects. Activations vary substantially in their precise locations, plausibly due to brain anatomy differences between subjects. Traditional group analyses would only capture a small proportion of each subject's activations and would underestimate the functional selectivity of these regions.
Credit: Evalina Fedorenko / MIT

Language is a defining aspect of what makes us human. Although some brain regions are known to be associated with language, neuroscientists have had a surprisingly difficult time using brain imaging technology to understand exactly what these 'language areas' are doing. In a new study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, MIT neuroscientists report on a new method to analyze brain imaging data -- one that may paint a clearer picture of how our brain produces and understands language.

Research with patients who developed specific language deficits (such as the inability to comprehend passive sentences) following brain injury suggest that different aspects of language may reside in different parts of the brain. But attempts to find these functionally specific regions of the brain with current neuroimaging technologies have been inconsistent and controversial.

One reason for this inconsistency may be due to the fact that most previous studies relied on group analyses in which brain imaging data were averaged across multiple subjects -- a computation that could introduce statistical noise and bias into the analyses.

"Because brains differ in their folding patterns and in how functional areas map onto these folds, activations obtained in functional MRI studies often do not precisely 'line up' across brains," explained Evelina Fedorenko, first author of the study and a postdoctoral associate in Nancy Kanwisher's lab at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. " Some regions of the brain thought to be involved in language are also geographically close to regions that support other cognitive processes like music, arithmetic, or general working memory. By spatially averaging brain data across subjects you may see an activation 'blob' that looks like it supports both language and, say, arithmetic, even in cases where in every single subject these two processes are supported by non-overlapping nearby bits of cortex."

The only way to get around this problem, according to Fedorenko, is to first define "regions of interest" in each individual subject and then investigate those regions by examining their responses to various new tasks. To do this, they developed a "localizer" task where subjects read either sentences or sequences of pronounceable nonwords.

Sample sentence: THE DOG CHASED THE CAT ALL DAY LONG

Sample nonword sequence: BOKER DESH HE THE DRILES LER CICE FRISTY'S

By subtracting the nonword-activated regions from the sentence-activated regions, the researchers found a number of language regions that were quickly and reliably identified in individual brains. Their new method revealed higher selectivity for sentences compared to nonwords than a traditional group analysis applied to the same data.

"This new, more sensitive method allows us now to investigate questions of functional specificity between language and other cognitive functions, as well as between different aspects of language," Fedorenko concludes. "We're more likely to discover which patches of cortex are specialized for language and which also support other cognitive functions like music and working memory. Understanding the relationship between language and the rest of condition is one of key questions in cognitive neuroscience."

Next Steps: Fedorenko published the tools used in this study on her website: http://web.mit.edu/evelina9/www/funcloc.html. The goal for the future, she argues, is to adopt a common standard for identifying language-sensitive areas so that knowledge about their functions can be accumulated across studies and across labs. "The eventual goal is of course to understand the precise nature of the computations each brain region performs," Fedorenko says, "but that's a tall order."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. Fedorenko, P. J. Hsieh, A. Nieto Castanon, S. Whitfield-Gabrieli, N. Kanwisher. A new method for fMRI investigations of language: Defining ROIs functionally in individual subjects. Journal of Neurophysiology, 2010; DOI: 10.1152/jn.00032.2010

Cite This Page:

McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "New analysis reveals clearer picture of brain’s language areas." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518144436.htm>.
McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). (2010, May 23). New analysis reveals clearer picture of brain’s language areas. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518144436.htm
McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "New analysis reveals clearer picture of brain’s language areas." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518144436.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins