Authors: Lílian Rodrigues de Almeida, Peter C. Hansen.
Publication: bioRxiv (Preprint server) 2019 | DOI: 10.1101/522847
Findings of neuroimaging and brain stimulation research suggest that the motor system takes part in phonological processing at least to some extent in healthy speakers. Phonological processing involves a core network of brain regions, the dorsal pathway, where motoric aspects of speech sounds are analysed by the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and auditory aspects by the left superior temporal gyrus (LSTG). The extent to which each node of the dorsal pathway takes part in phonological processing has been shown to depend on the nature of the task and on the functional integrity of the network. Tasks of speech production rely more on the LIFG, and tasks of speech perception rely more on the LSTG. Persons with dyslexia (PWD) are known to present a deficit in phonological processing. Neuroimaging research has shown that dyslexia typically affects the LSTG, with hypoactivation, and the LIFG, with hyperactivation. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been widely used for cognitive research in humans. It has been recently suggested in the literature that perturbations induced by brain stimulation can cause the weights of nodes in cognitive networks to transiently rearrange.
In this study we used tDCS and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the functioning of the dorsal pathway for phonological processing in PWD with tasks of speech production and speech perception. We targeted the LIFG with anodal, cathodal and sham tDCS. For healthy speakers, cathodal tDCS should downregulate performance when the target had high relevance for the task, such as the LIFG for speech production. For targets of smaller relevance, improved performance should be observed due to compensation by the most relevant node(s). Anodal tDCS should improve performance as a function of the relevance of the target for the task. PWD were expected to deviate from this pattern to some extent, especially when compensation by the LSTG was needed during cathodal tDCS of the LIFG for a task of speech perception. Results corroborated the theoretical claim that codes for articulation take part in the processing of speech sounds.
However, our findings showed that the PWD pattern of response to tDCS for phonological processing in tasks of speech production and speech perception differed from that expected for healthy speakers. Anodal tDCS of the LIFG induced larger facilitation for the speech perception than for the speech production task, as well as larger compensation for the latter under cathodal tDCS. Findings indicate that tDCS is a promising diagnosis tool for the investigation of alterations in phonological processing caused by dyslexia.