Neurolinguistic processing when the brain matures without language

Cortex. 2018 Feb;99:390-403. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.12.011. Epub 2017 Dec 26.


The extent to which development of the brain language system is modulated by the temporal onset of linguistic experience relative to post-natal brain maturation is unknown. This crucial question cannot be investigated with the hearing population because spoken language is ubiquitous in the environment of newborns. Deafness blocks infants' language experience in a spoken form, and in a signed form when it is absent from the environment. Using anatomically constrained magnetoencephalography, aMEG, we neuroimaged lexico-semantic processing in a deaf adult whose linguistic experience began in young adulthood. Despite using language for 30 years after initially learning it, this individual exhibited limited neural response in the perisylvian language areas to signed words during the 300-400 ms temporal window, suggesting that the brain language system requires linguistic experience during brain growth to achieve functionality. The present case study primarily exhibited neural activations in response to signed words in dorsolateral superior parietal and occipital areas bilaterally, replicating the neural patterns exhibited by two previously case studies who matured without language until early adolescence (Ferjan Ramirez N, Leonard MK, Torres C, Hatrak M, Halgren E, Mayberry RI. 2014). The dorsal pathway appears to assume the task of processing words when the brain matures without experiencing the form-meaning network of a language.

Keywords: Brain language development; Critical period; Magnetoencephalography; Neural plasticity; Sign language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition
  • Comprehension
  • Critical Period, Psychological*
  • Deafness*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sign Language*
  • Young Adult