Dissecting the functional anatomy of auditory word repetition

Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 May 6;8:246. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00246. eCollection 2014.


This fMRI study used a single, multi-factorial, within-subjects design to dissociate multiple linguistic and non-linguistic processing areas that are all involved in repeating back heard words. The study compared: (1) auditory to visual inputs; (2) phonological to non-phonological inputs; (3) semantic to non-semantic inputs; and (4) speech production to finger-press responses. The stimuli included words (semantic and phonological inputs), pseudowords (phonological input), pictures and sounds of animals or objects (semantic input), and colored patterns and hums (non-semantic and non-phonological). The speech production tasks involved auditory repetition, reading, and naming while the finger press tasks involved one-back matching. The results from the main effects and interactions were compared to predictions from a previously reported functional anatomical model of language based on a meta-analysis of many different neuroimaging experiments. Although many findings from the current experiment replicated many of those predicted, our within-subject design also revealed novel results by providing sufficient anatomical precision to dissect several different regions within the anterior insula, pars orbitalis, anterior cingulate, SMA, and cerebellum. For example, we found one part of the pars orbitalis was involved in phonological processing and another in semantic processing. We also dissociated four different types of phonological effects in the left superior temporal sulcus (STS), left putamen, left ventral premotor cortex, and left pars orbitalis. Our findings challenge some of the commonly-held opinions on the functional anatomy of language, and resolve some previously conflicting findings about specific brain regions-and our experimental design reveals details of the word repetition process that are not well captured by current models.

Keywords: auditory word repetition; fMRI; language.