Patterns of language dominance in focal left and right hemisphere epilepsies: relation to MRI findings, EEG, sex, and age at onset of epilepsy

Brain Cogn. 1997 Mar;33(2):135-50. doi: 10.1006/brcg.1997.0888.


The present study evaluates results of language testing during intracarotid amobarbital procedures in 167 patients with either left (LHE, n = 81) or right hemisphere epilepsies (RHE, n = 86). In both groups there was a high rate of deviance from complete left hemisphere dominance of 24 and 31%, respectively. Whilst complete right hemisphere or incomplete left hemisphere language dominance were the prominent atypical patterns in LHE, RHE was associated with either bilateral dominance or incomplete left dominance. In LHE, atypical language dominance was frequently associated with an extratemporal localization of lesions or epileptic foci. The age at onset of epilepsy and the degree of right hemisphere language dominance correlated significantly in LHE but not in RHE. Finally, atypical dominance in LHE but not in RHE was associated with poorer language and nonlanguage functions, the latter being negatively correlated with the degree of right hemisphere language dominance. Conclusions are: (1) The data contradict the assumption of equipotentiality and favor the supposition of a predetermined left hemisphere superiority in language processing. (2) Atypical language dominance in LHE can largely be explained in terms of a plasticity dependent language shift as a consequence of early left hemisphere epilepsies and lesions. (3) Atypical dominance patterns in RHE appear to reflect the prevalence of genetically determined variants and the possibility of a language transfer from the right to the left hemisphere.

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Amobarbital / pharmacology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Epilepsies, Partial / complications
  • Epilepsies, Partial / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / pharmacology
  • Language Development
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reading
  • Sex Factors
  • Speech / drug effects
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / drug effects
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Amobarbital