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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

August 2011, Vol. 23, No. 8, Pages 2013-2029
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21563)
© 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Can the Language-dominant Hemisphere Be Predicted by Brain Anatomy?
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It has long been suspected that cortical interhemispheric asymmetries may underlie hemispheric language dominance (HLD). To test this hypothesis, we determined interhemispheric asymmetries using stereology and MRI of three cortical regions hypothesized to be related to HLD (Broca's area, planum temporale, and insula) in healthy adults in whom HLD was determined using functional transcranial Doppler sonography and functional MRI (15 left HLD, 10 right HLD). We observed no relationship between volume asymmetry of the gyral correlates of Broca's area or planum temporale and HLD. However, we observed a robust relationship between volume asymmetry of the insula and HLD (p = .008), which predicted unilateral HLD in 88% individuals (86.7% left HDL and 90% right HLD). There was also a subtle but significant positive correlation between the extent of HLD and insula volume asymmetry (p = .02), indicating that a larger insula predicted functional lateralization to the same hemispheric side for the majority of subjects. We found no visual evidence of basic anatomical markers of HLD other than that the termination of the right posterior sylvian fissure was more likely to be vertical than horizontal in right HLD subjects (p = .02). Predicting HLD by virtue of gross brain anatomy is complicated by interindividual variability in sulcal contours, and the possibility remains that morphological and cytoarchitectural organization of the classical language regions may underlie HLD when analyses are not constrained by the natural limits imposed by measurement of gyral volume. Although the anatomical correlates of HLD will most likely be found to include complex intra- and interhemispheric connections, there is the possibility that such connectivity may correlate with gray matter morphology. We suggest that the potential significance of insular morphology should be considered in future studies addressing the anatomical correlates of human language lateralization.