To explore whether the thalamus participates in lexical status (word vs nonword) processing during spoken word production, we recorded local field potentials from the ventral lateral thalamus in 11 essential tremor patients (three females) undergoing thalamic deep-brain stimulation lead implantation during a visually cued word and nonword reading-aloud task. We observed task-related beta (12-30 Hz) activity decreases that were preferentially time locked to stimulus presentation, and broadband gamma (70-150 Hz) activity increases, which are thought to index increased multiunit spiking activity, occurring shortly before and predominantly time locked to speech onset. We further found that thalamic beta activity decreases bilaterally were greater when nonwords were read, demonstrating bilateral sensitivity to lexical status that likely reflects the tracking of task effort; in contrast, greater nonword-related increases in broadband gamma activity were observed only on the left, demonstrating lateralization of thalamic broadband gamma selectivity for lexical status. In addition, this lateralized lexicality effect on broadband gamma activity was strongest in more anterior thalamic locations, regions which are more likely to receive basal ganglia than cerebellar afferents and have extensive connections with prefrontal cortex including Brodmann's areas 44 and 45, regions consistently associated with grapheme-to-phoneme conversions. These results demonstrate active thalamic participation in reading aloud and provide direct evidence from intracranial thalamic recordings for the lateralization and topography of subcortical lexical status processing.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Despite the corticocentric focus of most experimental work and accompanying models, there is increasing recognition of the role of subcortical structures in speech and language. Using local field potential recordings in neurosurgical patients, we demonstrated that the thalamus participates in lexical status (word vs nonword) processing during spoken word production, in a lateralized and region-specific manner. These results provide direct evidence from intracranial thalamic recordings for the lateralization and topography of subcortical lexical status processing.
Keywords: deep brain stimulation; language; lexicality effect; local field potential; reading aloud; thalamus.
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