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New paper finds brain activity differences associated with stuttering

May 10, 2023

Written by: Stephany Daniel, Soo-Eun Chang

Our lab's new paper was published in the latest issue of NeuroImage: Clinical

Our new publication, Brain activity during the preparation and production of spontaneous speech in children with persistent stuttering was published in the latest issue of NeuroImage: Clinical.

Working in collaboration with Dr. Ho Ming Chow at the University of Delaware, the paper reports new findings on brain activity differences between children who stutter and those who don’t.

Congratulations to the authors, Ho Ming Chow, Emily O. Garnett, Nan Bernstein Ratner, and Soo-Eun Chang!

What did the study find?

This study used functional MRI (fMRI), a powerful tool for researchers that gives a detailed look at the whole brain, including deeper structures such as the basal ganglia. However, in speech research, a person’s facial movements while speaking can obscure the results, making data difficult to analyze.

Dr. Chow and colleagues used an advanced technique to reduce the “noise” in these scans so the data could be read. Scans were collected from children 5–12 years old performing two speech tasks—automatic, like reciting their ABC’s, and spontaneous narrative like storytelling.

Among children who stutter, we observed less brain activity in one specific speech motor region of the brain, especially when they performed spontaneous narrative speech activities. Additionally, we found that non-stutterers not only have more activity in this same area of the brain, but the activity increases as they get older. This same increase is not observed in the brains of children who stutter.

These results support current theories that stuttering is associated with deficits in key structures and connections within one specialized area of the brain: the basal ganglia thalamocortical network.

Why is this research important?

This paper represents a foundational effort in stuttering research with the largest sample size of MRI research in preschool and school-aged children who stutter. Most importantly, it paves the way for deeper investigation into the neural bases of stuttering and efforts towards developing neuroscience-based treatments for stuttering.