The motor somatotopy of speech perception

Curr Biol. 2009 Mar 10;19(5):381-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.017. Epub 2009 Feb 12.


Listening to speech recruits a network of fronto-temporo-parietal cortical areas. Classical models consider anterior (motor) sites to be involved in speech production whereas posterior sites are considered to be involved in comprehension. This functional segregation is challenged by action-perception theories suggesting that brain circuits for speech articulation and speech perception are functionally dependent. Although recent data show that speech listening elicits motor activities analogous to production, it's still debated whether motor circuits play a causal contribution to the perception of speech. Here we administered transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to motor cortex controlling lips and tongue during the discrimination of lip- and tongue-articulated phonemes. We found a neurofunctional double dissociation in speech sound discrimination, supporting the idea that motor structures provide a specific functional contribution to the perception of speech sounds. Moreover, our findings show a fine-grained motor somatotopy for speech comprehension. We discuss our results in light of a modified "motor theory of speech perception" according to which speech comprehension is grounded in motor circuits not exclusively involved in speech production.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Lip
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Tongue
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation