Friday, June 26, 2015

There May Not Be a Single Language Comprehension Center in the Brain

A recent paper in the journal Brain, a journal of neurology, challenges the long-held notion that the sensory speech area of the left temporal lobe of the cerebrum—often called the Wernicke area—acts as the center of language comprehension.

Wernicke area
The report describes research that leads one to the conclusion that although the Wernicke area (pictured) apparently has a role in understanding individual words, the task of sentence comprehension is accomplished by a complex network of diverse areas of the cerebrum. These include, "temporoparietal components of Wernicke’s area, Broca’s area, and [the] dorsal premotor cortex."

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • When discussing the sensory speech (Wernicke) area, one might bring up this discovery and how it may modify our description of its main function.

  • This discovery is a good example of how science works—how theories are formed and how they are modified as new information is discovered.  And how new research must be confirmed before it becomes widely established as fact.

  • When discussing cerebral localization of function, this story may be helpful in emphasizing that complex cerebral functions often involve integration of diverse cortical areas.

  • This story is a good example of our rapidly advancing knowledge of complex brain function.

  • You'll sound very "with it" when you can drop in casual asides about the latest brain research in your classroom discussions!

Want to know more?

New Human Brain Language Map | Researchers find that Wernicke’s area, thought to be the seat of language comprehension in the human brain for more than a century, is not.
  • Bob Grant. The Scientist  Published online June 26, 2015
  • Brief, plain-English article summarizing the recent findings.

The Wernicke conundrum and the anatomy of language comprehension in primary progressive aphasia 
  • M-Marsel Mesulam , et al. Brain. DOI: First published online: 25 June 2015
  • The original research article.

Scientists redraw traditional brain map of language comprehension
  • Northwestern University press release. Published online June 25, 2015

Cortical Areas Involved in Speech Processing

Image credits: Database Center for Life Science (Wernicke area)
Leuthardt, et al. (cortical speech areas)

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