Objective: In 90% of normal subjects, the left hemisphere is dominant for language function. We investigated whether congenital lesions of the left perisylvian regions altered cortical language representation in right-handed individuals.
Methods: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we studied language hemispheric dominance in five right-handed adult patients with congenitally acquired arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) originating from left hemispheric cortical language regions. The AVMs had not caused neurological symptoms during early development, but patients presented as adults with migraine, seizure, or minor hemorrhage. Results obtained from the AVM patients were contrasted to those from right-handed brain-injured stroke patients recovering from aphasia and to those from right-handed normal subjects.
Results: During silent picture naming and verb generation tasks, cortical language networks lateralized primarily to the right hemisphere in the AVM group, compared with the left hemisphere in the normal group. This right hemisphere-shifted language network in the AVM group exceeded the shifts toward right hemispheric dominance found in the stroke group.
Conclusion: Patients with AVMs affecting the left perisylvian regions recruited the right hemisphere into language processing networks during early development, presumably in response to congenitally aberrant circulation. This early right hemisphere recruitment in the AVM patients exceeded the similar process in the brains of stroke patients whose left cortical language networks were damaged in adulthood. Our data provide evidence of effective plasticity in the developing human brain compared with the mature brain response to injury. Knowledge of cortical language representation should assist presurgical planning in patients with developmental anomalies affecting apparently language-dominant brain regions.