2015

Pliatsikas C., Moschopoulou, E., & Saddy, D. (2015): The effects of bilingualism on the white matter structure of the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112(5), 1334-1337. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1414183112

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Abstract

Recent studies suggest that learning and using a second language (L2) can affect brain structure, including the structure of white matter (WM) tracts. This observation comes from research looking at early and older bilingual individuals who have been using both their first and second languages on an everyday basis for many years. This study investigated whether young, highly immersed late bilinguals would also show structural effects in the WM that can be attributed to everyday L2 use, irrespective of critical periods or the length of L2 learning. Our Tract-Based Spatial Statistics analysis revealed higher fractional anisotropy values for bilinguals vs. monolinguals in several WM tracts that have been linked to language processing and in a pattern closely resembling the results reported for older and early bilinguals. We propose that learning and actively using an L2 after childhood can have rapid dynamic effects on WM structure, which in turn may assist in preserving WM integrity in older age.

Pliatsikas C., & Chondrogianni V. (2015): Editorial: Learning a non-native language in a naturalistic environment: Insights from behavioural and neuroimaging research. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1009

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Moutsiana, C., Johnstone, T., Murray, L., Fearon, P., Cooper, P., Pliatsikas, C., Goodyer, I., & Halligan, S. (2015): Insecure attachment during infancy predicts greater amygdala volumes in early adulthood. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56(5), 540-548

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Abstract

Background: The quality of the early environment is hypothesized to be an influence on morphological development in key neural areas related to affective responding, but direct evidence to support this possibility is limited. In a 22-year longitudinal study, we examined hippocampal and amygdala volumes in adulthood in relation to early infant attachment status, an important indicator of the quality of the early caregiving environment. Methods: Participants (N = 59) were derived from a prospective longitudinal study of the impact of maternal postnatal depression on child development. Infant attachment status (24 Secure; 35 Insecure) was observed at 18 months of age, and MRI assessments were completed at 22 years. Results: In line with hypotheses, insecure versus secure infant attachment status was associated with larger amygdala volumes in young adults, an effect that was not accounted for by maternal depression history. We did not find early infant attachment status to predict hippocampal volumes. Conclusions: Common variations in the quality of early environment are associated with gross alterations in amygdala morphology in the adult brain. Further research is required to establish the neural changes that underpin the volumetric differences reported here, and any functional implications.

Ward, D., Connally, E., Pliatsikas, C., & Watkins, K. (2015): The neurological underpinnings of cluttering: some initial findings. The Journal of Fluency Disorders. 43, 1-16.

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Abstract

Background: Cluttering is a fluency disorder characterised by overly rapid or jerky speech patterns that compromise intelligibility. The neural correlates of cluttering are unknown but theoretical accounts implicate the basal ganglia and medial prefrontal cortex. Dysfunction in these brain areas would be consistent with difficulties in selection and control of speech motor programs that are characteristic of speech disfluencies in cluttering. There is a surprising lack of investigation into this disorder using modern imaging techniques. Here, we used functional MRI to investigate the neural correlates of cluttering. Method: We scanned 17 adults who clutter and 17 normally fluent control speakers matched for age and sex. Brain activity was recorded using sparse-sampling functional MRI while participants viewed scenes and either (i) produced overt speech describing the scene or (ii) read out loud a sentence provided that described the scene. Speech was recorded and analysed off line. Differences in brain activity for each condition compared to a silent resting baseline and between conditions were analysed for each group separately (cluster-forming threshold Z > 3.1, extent p < 0.05, corrected) and then these differences were further compared between the two groups (voxel threshold p 30 voxels, uncorrected). Results: In both conditions, the patterns of activation in adults who clutter and control speakers were strikingly similar, particularly at the cortical level. Direct group comparisons revealed greater activity in adults who clutter compared to control speakers in the lateral premotor cortex bilaterally and, as predicted, on the medial surface (pre-supplementary motor area). Subcortically, adults who clutter showed greater activity than control speakers in the basal ganglia. Specifically, the caudate nucleus and putamen were overactive in adults who clutter for the comparison of picture description with sentence reading. In addition, adults who clutter had reduced activity relative to control speakers in the lateral anterior cerebellum bilaterally. Eleven of the 17 adults who clutter also stuttered. This comorbid diagnosis of stuttering was found to contribute to the abnormal overactivity seen in the group of adults who clutter in the right ventral premotor cortex and right anterior cingulate cortex. In the remaining areas of abnormal activity seen in adults who clutter compared to controls, the subgroup who clutter and stutter did not differ from the subgroup who clutter but do not stutter. Conclusions: Our findings were in good agreement with theoretical predictions regarding the neural correlates of cluttering. We found evidence for abnormal function in the basal ganglia and their cortical output target, the medial prefrontal cortex. The findings are discussed in relation to models of cluttering that point to problems with motor control of speech.