What is right-hemisphere contribution to phonological, lexico-semantic, and sentence processing? Insights from a meta-analysis

Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 1;54(1):577-93. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.07.036. Epub 2010 Jul 23.


To evaluate the relative role of left and right hemispheres (RH) and describe the functional anatomy of RH during ortholinguistic tasks, we re-analyzed the 128 papers of a former left-hemisphere (LH) meta-analysis (Vigneau et al., 2006). Of these, 59 articles reported RH participation, providing 105 RH language contrasts including 218 peaks compared to 728 on the left, a proportion reflecting the LH language dominance. To describe inter-hemispheric interactions, in each of the language contrasts involving both hemispheres, we distinguished between unilateral and bilateral peaks, i.e. having homotopic activation in the LH in the same contrast. We also calculated the proportion of bilateral peaks in the LH. While the majority of LH peaks were unilateral (79%), a reversed pattern was observed in the RH; this demonstrates that, in contrast to the LH, the RH works in an inter-hemispheric manner. To analyze the regional pattern of RH participation, these unilateral and bilateral peaks were spatially clustered for each language component. Most RH phonological clusters corresponded to bilateral recruitment of auditory and motor cortices. Notably, the motor representation of the mouth and phonological working memory areas were exclusively left-lateralized, supporting the idea that the RH does not host phonological representations. Right frontal participation was not specific for the language component involved and appeared related to the recruitment of attentional and working memory areas. The fact that RH participation during lexico-semantic tasks was limited to these executive activations is compatible with the hypothesis that active inhibition is exerted from the LH during the processing of meaning. Only during sentence/text processing tasks a specific unilateral RH-temporal involvement was noted, likely related to context processing. These results are consistent with split-brain studies that found that the RH has a limited lexicon, with no phonological abilities but active involvement in the processing of context.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebrum / physiology*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Reference Values
  • Semantics*
  • Software
  • Sound Spectrography / methods
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology