Objective: To investigate the functional-neuroanatomic substrates of word production using signed versus spoken language.
Methods: The authors studied single-word processing with varying input and output modalities in a 38-year-old woman with normal hearing and speech who had become proficient in sign language 8 years before developing intractable epilepsy. Subdural electrocorticography (ECoG) was performed during picture naming and word reading (visual inputs) and word repetition (auditory inputs); these tasks were repeated with speech and with sign language responses. Cortical activation was indexed by event-related power augmentation in the 80- to 100-Hz gamma band, and was compared with general principles of functional anatomy and with subject-specific maps of the same or similar tasks using electrical cortical stimulation (ECS).
Results: Speech outputs activated tongue regions of the sensorimotor cortex, and sign outputs activated hand regions. In addition, signed word production activated parietal regions that were not activated by spoken word production. Posterior superior temporal gyrus was activated earliest and to the greatest extent during auditory word repetition, and the basal temporal-occipital cortex was activated similarly during naming and reading, reflecting the different modalities of input processing. With few exceptions, topographic patterns of ECoG gamma were consistent with ECS maps of the same or similar language tasks.
Conclusions: Spoken and signed word production activated many of the same cortical regions, particularly those processing auditory and visual inputs; however, they activated different regions of sensorimotor cortex, and signing activated parietal cortex more than did speech. This study illustrates the utility of electrocorticographic gamma for studying the neuroanatomy and processing dynamics of human language.