Can fMRI safely replace the Wada test for preoperative assessment of language lateralisation? A meta-analysis and systematic review

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2014 May;85(5):581-8. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2013-305659. Epub 2013 Aug 28.


Recent studies have shown that fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) may be of value for pre-surgical assessment of language lateralisation. The aim of this study was to systematically review and analyse the available literature. A systematic electronic search for studies comparing fMRI with Wada testing was conducted in the PubMed database between March 2009 and November 2011. Studies involving unilateral Wada testing, study population consisting exclusively of children younger than 12 years of age or involving five patients or fewer were excluded. 22 studies (504 patients) were included. A random effects meta-analysis was conducted to obtain pooled estimates of the positive and negative predictive values of the fMRI using the Wada test as the reference standard. The impact of several study features on the performance of fMRI was assessed. The results showed that 81% of patients were correctly classified as having left or right language dominance or mixed language representation. Techniques were discordant in 19% of patients. fMRI and Wada test agreed in 94% for typical language lateralisation and in 51% for atypical language lateralisation. Language production or language comprehension tasks and different regions of interest did not yield statistically significant different results. It can be concluded that fMRI is reliable when there is strong left-lateralised language. The Wada test is warranted when fMRI fails to show clear left-lateralisation.

Keywords: Epilepsy; Epilepsy, Surgery.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain / surgery*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Preoperative Care*
  • Reproducibility of Results