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Third Language Area in Brain Identified

Researchers think it may be critical to acquisition of language in childhood

MONDAY, Dec. 13, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- British scientists say they've identified a third area of the brain involved in language, a finding that seems to confirm previous theories.

Until now, it was believed that just two brain areas handled language. One area produced language, another area was responsible for comprehension, and a dense bundle of nerve fibers linked the two areas.

However, some scientists suspected there was a third language area in the brain. In this study, researchers used diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging -- a more powerful version of standard MRI -- to identify this third area, which they dubbed Geschwind's territory.

The name honors American neurologist Norman Geschwind, who championed the idea of a third linguistic area decades ago.

The study appears in the current online edition of the Annals of Neurology.

"We were surprised that the two classical areas were densely connected to a third area, whose presence had already been suspected but whose connections with the classical network were unknown," study author Dr. Marco Catani, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said in a prepared statement.

Geschwind's territory is a separate, roundabout route that connects the two classical areas, known as Broca's and Wernicke's areas, via a region of the parietal lobe of the cortex, the researchers said.

"There are clues that the parallel pathway network we found is important for the acquisition of language in childhood," Catani said.

"Geschwind's territory is the last area in the brain to mature, the completion of its maturation coinciding with the development of reading and writing skills. An important future line of study will be to examine the maturation of this area and its connections in the context of autism and dyslexia," Catani said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has more about language development.

SOURCE: John Wiley & Sons Inc., news release, Dec. 13, 2004
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