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Scientists discover more about why the brain makes some people stutter

Friday 15th December 2017
German scientists have discovered why people with a hyperactive right brain hemisphere are more likely to stutter. Image: Jovanmandic via iStock
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Stuttering and other speech impediments are often believed to be psychological, but there can also be neurological explanations. The latter is what a team of German scientists have been focusing on in a recent study and they believe they have made a new discovery regarding the brain's two hemispheres and their association with speech impediments.

Researchers from the University Medical Center Gottingen and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences recruited a group of study participants who had struggled with stutters since childhood.

They were asked to imagine themselves saying the names of the months out loud and magnetic resource imaging (MRI) technology was used to scan their brains at the same time.

Previous research has shown that people who stammer are more likely to have an imbalance between the left and right hemispheres of their brain; the left part tends to be hypoactive, with the right section more hyperactive.

With this in mind, the German scientists focused specifically on looking for modified fibre tracts in the right hemispheres of participants' brains.

The MRI scan images showed the researchers that having an overactive right hemisphere tended to prevent other parts of the brain from being able to start moving in the way that they should.

Because more neurological signals are being directed towards this hemisphere, people's speech can be stopped midflow, with some not even being able to get out a full word. This therefore offers an explanation as to why a hyperactive right hemisphere can manifest itself in the form of a stutter.

Deeper investigations then revealed that a particular fibre tract known as the frontal aslant tract was especially instrumental in determining the severity of speech impediments.

"The stronger the frontal aslant tract, the more severe the stuttering," first author of the study, Nicole Neef of the Max Planck Institute, explained.

"From previous studies, we know that this fibre tract plays a crucial role in fine-tuning signals that inhibit movements. The hyperactivity in this network and its stronger connections could suggest that one cause of stuttering lies in the neural inhibition of speech movements."

Written by Martin Lambert

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