In January 2021, Prof. Stephen M. Wilson – a neuroscientist in Vanderbilt University’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences – launched The Language Neuroscience Podcast series, devoting individual episodes to probing, informative one-hour interviews with leading investigators across the globe about their research into the neuroanatomy and the neurophysiology of human language. The purposes of this podcast series are: [1] to serve as an online forum for sharing information among research colleagues; and [2] to provide others interested in the neuroscience of language a place to hear from those researchers about their methods, activities, emerging understandings, and plans and hopes for the future.

In Episode #1, Prof. Wilson speaks with Prof. Evelina (Ev) Fedorenko, Associate Professor in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Head of its Language Laboratory. The interview focuses on techniques Ev has pioneered to achieve precision in the task of identifying cortical regions of involvement that are associated with particular types of language stimulation. Details of these techniques are given in: Fedorenko E, Hsieh P-J, Nieto-Castañon A, Whitfield-Gabrieli S, Kanwisher N. A new method for fMRI investigations of language: Defining ROIs functionally in individual subjects. J Neurophysiol 2010; 104: 1177-94.

Prof. Fedorenko breaks with the tradition of localizing ‘language centers’ in the brain anatomically through association of clinical deficits with the loci of cortical lesions, a practice initiated by Paul Broca in 1861. Instead, Fedorenko adapts advanced techniques developed originally for studying real time visual processing in animal brains. The new approach detects evoked potentials in the cortex to flag with precision the localization of activation sites within individual brains that are engaged in specific language- vs. pseudo-language processing tasks, such as hearing spoken English words vs. hearing meaningless English syllables being spoken. When a series of subjects is studied in this way and the findings compared and contrasted, the techniques permit both the localization and the delineation of boundaries of activated regions in human brains that are associated with particular types of language processing.

Although clinical applications rarely spring directly from basic language research, there is interest in exploring whether the techniques could help us understand the nature and eventual treatment of aphasia in adults. Prof. Fedorenko notes her communications with Prof. Swathy Kiran of Boston University to explore possible approaches to research along these lines.

For further exploration:   Stephen W. Wilson.  2021.  The Language Neuroscience Podcast: Episode #1 – Interview with Ev Fedorenko.  Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, & RSS Feed.

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