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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Sep 19;103(38):14240-5. Epub 2006 Sep 12.

Functional organization of perisylvian activation during presentation of sentences in preverbal infants.

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Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, U562, and Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, 4 Place du Général Leclerc, 91400 Orsay, France.


We examined the functional organization of cerebral activity in 3-month-old infants when they were listening to their mother language. Short sentences were presented in a slow event-related functional MRI paradigm. We then parsed the infant's network of perisylvian responsive regions into functionally distinct regions based on their speed of activation and sensitivity to sentence repetition. An adult-like structure of functional MRI response delays was observed along the superior temporal regions, suggesting a hierarchical processing scheme. The fastest responses were recorded in the vicinity of Heschl's gyrus, whereas responses became increasingly slower toward the posterior part of the superior temporal gyrus and toward the temporal poles and inferior frontal regions (Broca's area). Activation in the latter region increased when the sentence was repeated after a 14-s delay, suggesting the early involvement of Broca's area in verbal memory. The fact that Broca's area is active in infants before the babbling stage implies that activity in this region is not the consequence of sophisticated motor learning but, on the contrary, that this region may drive, through interactions with the perceptual system, the learning of the complex motor sequences required for future speech production. Our results point to a complex, hierarchical organization of the human brain in the first months of life, which may play a crucial role in language acquisition in our species.

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