Neural Correlates of Syntax Comprehension in Children with Speech-Language Inhibition

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Ronald Gillam, Guifang Fu


This study uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activities in the form of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemodynamic functionality (oxy and deoxy, respectively) between 13 SLI and 13 TD children (9'11 years old; 12 females) when performing syntax-based sentence comprehension tasks. We expected children with SLI to perform more poorly than their TD controls on behavioral measures and to present different neural activation patterns. Children listened to four different types of sentences: object relative (OR; The mouse that the cat had hugged under the dog was new), passive (PAS; The mouse was hugged by the cat under the very old dog), subject relative (SR; The cat that had hugged the mouse behind the dog was bright) and subject-verb-object (SVO; The cat had hugged the mouse behind the very bright new dog). The task was to choose the picture of the object in the sentence that performed the action. Behavioral results showed children in the SLI group performed more poorly than their TD controls on the PAS and OR (p < .05) sentences, whereas there were no group differences on the SVO and SR sentences. Oxy results revealed greater neural activity in Brocs's area for TD children than children with SLI for all sentence types. Deoxy results revealed typical left-lateralization in Broca's area for TD controls (p < .05) but atypical lateralization for children with SLI (p > .05). Supramarginal gyrus (SMG) neural activity for the children with SLI was more right-lateralized (p < .05), but TD controls presented no hemispheric differences. Deoxy concentrations in left SMG revealed greater activity for TD group than SLI group (p < .05). These results indicate difficulties with syntax processing in children with SLI may be due to differences in the extent of neural activation in language processing pathways that are typically left-lateralized.

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