Does the left superior longitudinal fascicle subserve language semantics? A brain electrostimulation study

Igor Lima Maldonado, Sylvie Moritz-Gasser, Hugues Duffau
Brain Structure & Function 2011, 216 (3): 263-74
Recent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) tractography studies indicate that the supramarginal gyrus (SMG) represents a relay between frontal and temporal language sites. Some authors postulate that pathways connecting SMG to the posterior temporal lobe, i.e., the posterior part of the superior longitudinal fascicle (SLF) subserve semantic aspects of language. However, DTI provides only anatomic but not functional data. Therefore, it is impossible to conclude. Interestingly, intra-operative electrical mapping of cortical and subcortical language structures during tumor surgery is recognized as a reliable technique in functional neuroanatomy research. We mapped the underlying white matter of the SMG, especially the SLF, in 11 patients who underwent awake surgery for a glioma involving the left inferior parietal lobule. Using direct electrostimulation, we investigated the exact role of the SLF in language. Our findings indicate that the white matter under the inferior parietal lobule is highly involved in the dorsal phonological system. First, the SMG, connected to the ventral premotor cortex by horizontal fibers of the SLF, subserves articulatory processing, as demonstrated by dysarthria elicited by stimulation. Second, long arcuate fibers, found deeper in the white matter, subserve phonological processing, as supported by phonemic paraphasia induced by electrostimulation. Third, the most important result is that no semantic disturbances were elicited by stimulating the SLF, including its posterior part. Furthermore, no semantic disorders occurred postoperatively. Subcortical brain mapping by direct electrical stimulation does not provide arguments for a possible role of the left SLF in language semantic processing.

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