Thesis defense Huadong Xiang (Donders Series 89)
April 16, 2012
The language networks of the brain
In recent decades, neuroimaging studies on the neural infrastructure of language are usually (or mostly) conducted with certain on-line language processing tasks. These functional neuroimaging studies helped to localize the language areas in the brain and to investigate the brain activity during explicit language processing. However, little is known about what is going on with the language areas when the brain is ‘at rest’, i.e., when there is no explicit language processing running. Taking advantage of the fcMRI and DTI techniques, this thesis is able to investigate the language function ‘off-line’ at the neuronal network level and the connectivity among language areas in the brain.
Based on patient studies, the traditional, classical model on the perisylvian language network specifies a “Broca’ area – Arcuate Fasciculus – Werinicke’s area” loop (Ojemann 1991). With the help of modern neuroimaging techniques, researchers have been able to track language pathways that involve more brain structures than are in the classical model, and relate them to certain language functions. In such a background, a large part of this thesis made a contribution to the study of the topology of the language networks. It revealed that the language networks form a topographical functional connectivity pattern in the left hemisphere for the right-handers. This thesis also revealed the importance of structural hubs, such as Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, which have more connectivity to other brain areas and play a central role in the language networks. Furthermore, this thesis revealed both functionally and structurally lateralized language networks in the brain. The consistency between what is found in this thesis and what has been known from previous functional studies seems to suggest, that the human brain is optimized and ‘ready’ for the language function even when there is currently no explicit language-processing running.