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Exp Brain Res. 2002 Oct;146(4):411-8. Epub 2002 Aug 28.

Task-specific sensorimotor interactions in speech production.

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Department of Communication Science and Disorders, University of Pittsburgh, 4033 Forbes Tower, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


Speaking involves the activity of multiple muscles moving many parts (articulators) of the vocal tract. In previous studies, it has been shown that mechanical perturbation delivered to one moving speech articulator, such as the lower lip or jaw, results in compensatory responses in the perturbed and other non-perturbed articulators, but not in articulators that are uninvolved in the specific speech sound being produced. These observations suggest that the speech motor control system may be organized in a task-specific manner. However, previous studies have not used the appropriate controls to address the mechanism by which this task-specific organization is achieved. A lack of response in a non-perturbed articulator may simply reflect the fact that the muscles examined were not active. Alternatively, there may be a specific gating of somatic sensory signals due to task requirements. The present study was designed to address the nature of the underlying sensorimotor organization. Unanticipated mechanical loads were applied to the upper lip during the "p" in "apa" and "f" in "afa" in six subjects. Both lips are used to produce "p", while only the lower lip is used for "f". For "apa", both upper lip and lower lip responses were observed following upper lip perturbation. For "afa", no upper lip or lower lip responses were observed following the upper lip perturbation. The differential response of the lower lip, which was phasically active during both speech tasks, indicates that the neural organization of these two speech tasks differs not only in terms of the different muscles used to produce the different movements, but also in terms of the sensorimotor interactions within and across the two lips.

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