Broca´s area, the region of the brain responsible for speech production, develops abnormally in people who stutter.
Researchers at the University of Alberta have found abnormal development in the parts of the brain known to control speech in children who stutter. This same pattern also seems to continue to be present during adulthood. MRI examinations were conducted on both children and adult stutterers by the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research. The results indicate abnormally developing grey matter in Broca’s area, which is the part of the brain responsible for speech output. This abnormality was the only one found after researchers looked at thirty different regions of the brain.
“In every other region of the brain we studied, we saw a typical pattern of brain matter development. These findings implicate Broca’s area as a crucial region associated with stuttering,” said Deryk Beal, ISTAR executive director and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.”
The study conducted included 116 males aged between 6 and 48 with half the participants participating and the other half acting as a control group for the study. The study was also done in collaboration with University of Toronto to achieve the largest number of participants for a study of this type.
“The research team observed a steady, and expected, decline in the cortical thickness of grey matter in the control group–a decline not observed in people who stutter. This decline in thickness, Beal explained, is actually a good thing because it reflects how the brain gets more efficient as we age, requiring fewer neural resources. One interpretation of this finding could be that this area, in people who stutter, does not operate as efficiently within the brain network for speech production,” Beal said.”
It is still difficult to determine which came first even though we can see a relationship between this abnormal development and stuttering. Therefore, a conclusion that Broca’s region is responsible for stuttering cannot yet be made.
“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” Beal explained. “We don’t know if the changes we are seeing in this region of the brain are the result of a reaction in the brain to stuttered speech or some other difference in how the brain is operating elsewhere, or indeed if these changes are the cause of the disorder.”
An earlier study conducted by the same team found that children who stutter tend to have less grey matter volume; however this only gives us a snapshot of one point in the individuals life. The most recent study gives us further information into the development of a stutters brain over the course of their life, providing a greater insight into the progression of the disorder.
“Beal said the findings support the need for an even larger long-term study of brain development from infancy to adulthood to look at how brain growth in speech areas differs between children who stutter, those who don’t, and kids who stutter and later recover. That will help us know how the brains of kids who stutter and recover change to help them cure themselves. We can then start to change our treatments so that they impact all kids in this way.”
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