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Front Psychol. 2018 Oct 12;9:1960. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01960. eCollection 2018.

Addressing the Language Binding Problem With Dynamic Functional Connectivity During Meaningful Spoken Language Comprehension.

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Neurosciences and Mental Health, Sick Kids Research Institute, Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Epilespy Research Program of the Ontario Brain Institute, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Diagnostic Imaging, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Medical Imaging, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Krembil Research Institute, University Health Network and Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Division of Neurology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada.


During speech, how does the brain integrate information processed on different timescales and in separate brain areas so we can understand what is said? This is the language binding problem. Dynamic functional connectivity (brief periods of synchronization in the phase of EEG oscillations) may provide some answers. Here we investigate time and frequency characteristics of oscillatory power and phase synchrony (dynamic functional connectivity) during speech comprehension. Twenty adults listened to meaningful English sentences and non-sensical "Jabberwocky" sentences in which pseudo-words replaced all content words, while EEG was recorded. Results showed greater oscillatory power and global connectivity strength (mean phase lag index) in the gamma frequency range (30-80 Hz) for English compared to Jabberwocky. Increased power and connectivity relative to baseline was also seen in the theta frequency range (4-7 Hz), but was similar for English and Jabberwocky. High-frequency gamma oscillations may reflect a mechanism by which the brain transfers and integrates linguistic information so we can extract meaning and understand what is said. Slower frequency theta oscillations may support domain-general processing of the rhythmic features of speech. Our findings suggest that constructing a meaningful representation of speech involves dynamic interactions among distributed brain regions that communicate through frequency-specific functional networks.


PLI (phase lag index); dynamic functional connectivity; gamma; phase synchrony; speech comprehension; theta

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