The motivation of this work was to investigate stuttering--a disorder of speech motor control--in the light of preparatory neural activity of voluntary movements related to speech. To this end, brain activity was recorded with a whole cortex magnetoencephalograph (MEG) in developmental stutterers and nonstutterers while three different tasks of single-word reading were performed. Visually presented words had to be silently read immediately after word presentation (condition 1), spoken aloud immediately after word presentation (condition 2), or spoken aloud after a delay of 1.3 s as indicated by a second visual stimulus (condition 3). Condition 2 clearly showed marked neurophysiological differences between stutterers and nonstutterers. Only nonstutterers showed clear neural activity before speech onset, which is interpreted as being linked to visual word presentation and to reflect focused verbal anticipation. This prespeech activity might reflect the "Bereitschaftsfeld2" (BF2) that is the later component of the "Bereitschaftsfeld", a well-known preparatory activity described for many other voluntary movements. Our results strongly link the lack of such preparatory brain activity at the single-word level to the disability of fluent speech in stutterers. The present results strongly support the notion that stuttering is related to impaired focused attention or anticipation.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Inc.