Speech comprehension studies have generally focused on the isolation and function of regions with positive blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signals with respect to a resting baseline. Although regions with negative BOLD signals in comparison to a resting baseline have been reported in language-related tasks, their relationship to regions of positive signals is not fully appreciated. Based on the emerging notion that the negative signals may represent an active function in language tasks, the authors test the hypothesis that negative BOLD signals during receptive language are more associated with comprehension than content-free versions of the same stimuli. Regions associated with comprehension of speech were isolated by comparing responses to passive listening to natural speech to two incomprehensible versions of the same speech: one that was digitally time reversed and one that was muffled by removal of high frequencies. The signal polarity was determined by comparing the BOLD signal during each speech condition to the BOLD signal during a resting baseline. As expected, stimulation-induced positive signals relative to resting baseline were observed in the canonical language areas with varying signal amplitudes for each condition. Negative BOLD responses relative to resting baseline were observed primarily in frontoparietal regions and were specific to the natural speech condition. However, the BOLD signal remained indistinguishable from baseline for the unintelligible speech conditions. Variations in connectivity between brain regions with positive and negative signals were also specifically related to the comprehension of natural speech. These observations of anticorrelated signals related to speech comprehension are consistent with emerging models of cooperative roles represented by BOLD signals of opposite polarity.
Keywords: blood oxygen level dependent signal; coupling; functional connectivity; functional magnetic resonance imaging; speech.