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New paper identifies key brain changes associated with stuttering

March 21, 2023

Written by: Stephany Daniel, Soo-Eun Chang

Cover art of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience journal

Our lab's new paper was published in the April 2023 issue of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

Are there structural differences in the brains of children who stutter? What about as they grow up? 

Our lab sought the answers to these questions (and more) in our latest paper, Brain developmental trajectories associated with childhood stuttering persistence and recovery, published in the April 2023 issue of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

Congratulations to the authors, Ho Ming Chow, Emily O. Garnett, Simone P.C. Koenraads, and Soo-Eun Chang!

What did the study find?

This paper covers the first longitudinal study of brain structure development in children who stutter. We collected over 475 MRI scans yearly from children 3–12 years of age and identified, for the first time, brain structure differences occurring at the earliest stages of stuttering. As the children grew older, we also found key brain changes associated with persistent stuttering versus recovery from stuttering. These changes occurred in the brain’s gray matter and white matter areas.

In children who went on to have persistent stuttering, we found evidence of significant reductions in gray and white matter volume in areas comprising a brain circuit called the cortical striatal loop. This area of the brain is critical during speech acquisition. Speech is one of the most complex motor behaviors that humans perform, and early deficits in the cortical striatal loop may lead to vulnerability for breakdowns in speech production. 

In children who recovered from stuttering, we found white matter volume increases in areas known to be affected in the brains of those with persistent stuttering. This indicates recovery may involve the brain compensating for deficits, rebuilding the function of these circuits.

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.