A neuronal sign of persistent developmental stuttering is the magnified coactivation of right frontal brain regions during speech production. Whether and how stuttering severity relates to the connection strength of these hyperactive right frontal areas to other brain areas is an open question. Scrutinizing such brain-behaviour and structure-function relationships aims at disentangling suspected underlying neuronal mechanisms of stuttering. Here, we acquired diffusion-weighted and functional images from 31 adults who stutter and 34 matched control participants. Using a newly developed structural connectivity measure, we calculated voxel-wise correlations between connection strength and stuttering severity within tract volumes that originated from functionally hyperactive right frontal regions. Correlation analyses revealed that with increasing speech motor deficits the connection strength increased in the right frontal aslant tract, the right anterior thalamic radiation, and in U-shaped projections underneath the right precentral sulcus. In contrast, with decreasing speech motor deficits connection strength increased in the right uncinate fasciculus. Additional group comparisons of whole-brain white matter skeletons replicated the previously reported reduction of fractional anisotropy in the left and right superior longitudinal fasciculus as well as at the junction of right frontal aslant tract and right superior longitudinal fasciculus in adults who stutter compared to control participants. Overall, our investigation suggests that right fronto-temporal networks play a compensatory role as a fluency enhancing mechanism. In contrast, the increased connection strength within subcortical-cortical pathways may be implied in an overly active global response suppression mechanism in stuttering. Altogether, this combined functional MRI-diffusion tensor imaging study disentangles different networks involved in the neuronal underpinnings of the speech motor deficit in persistent developmental stuttering.
Keywords: connection strength; diffusion tractography; persistent developmental stuttering; right frontal networks; speech motor control.
© The Author (2017). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Guarantors of Brain.