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J Cogn Neurosci. 2013 Sep;25(9):1477-92. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00405. Epub 2013 Apr 22.

A surface-based analysis of language lateralization and cortical asymmetry.

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The Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Room 2301, 149 13th Street, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA.


Among brain functions, language is one of the most lateralized. Cortical language areas are also some of the most asymmetrical in the brain. An open question is whether the asymmetry in function is linked to the asymmetry in anatomy. To address this question, we measured anatomical asymmetry in 34 participants shown with fMRI to have language dominance of the left hemisphere (LLD) and 21 participants shown to have atypical right hemisphere dominance (RLD). All participants were healthy and left-handed, and most (80%) were female. Gray matter (GM) volume asymmetry was measured using an automated surface-based technique in both ROIs and exploratory analyses. In the ROI analysis, a significant difference between LLD and RLD was found in the insula. No differences were found in planum temporale (PT), pars opercularis (POp), pars triangularis (PTr), or Heschl's gyrus (HG). The PT, POp, insula, and HG were all significantly left lateralized in both LLD and RLD participants. Both the positive and negative ROI findings replicate a previous study using manually labeled ROIs in a different cohort [Keller, S. S., Roberts, N., Garcia-Finana, M., Mohammadi, S., Ringelstein, E. B., Knecht, S., et al. Can the language-dominant hemisphere be predicted by brain anatomy? Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 2013-2029, 2011]. The exploratory analysis was accomplished using a new surface-based registration that aligns cortical folding patterns across both subject and hemisphere. A small but significant cluster was found in the superior temporal gyrus that overlapped with the PT. A cluster was also found in the ventral occipitotemporal cortex corresponding to the visual word recognition area. The surface-based analysis also makes it possible to disentangle the effects of GM volume, thickness, and surface area while removing the effects of curvature. For both the ROI and exploratory analyses, the difference between LLD and RLD volume laterality was most strongly driven by differences in surface area and not cortical thickness. Overall, there were surprisingly few differences in GM volume asymmetry between LLD and RLD indicating that gross morphometric asymmetry is only subtly related to functional language laterality.

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