SPL4: Brain dynamics of language in space and time: Investigating interactive phonological, lexical, syntactic and seman

Lead Research Organisation: MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Abstract

We have shown that the brain systems for language and action are closely linked. Brain theory predicts that frequent co-occurrence of actions and words joins together their neural circuits at the level of the cortex. We investigated words that are used to speak about actions involving muscles of the face, arms and legs, respectively. Reading and hearing these words specifically activates brain regions that normally process the actions the word relate to semantically. Word meaning could be mapped along the motor brain: the arm word pick activated the arm motor cortex as the leg word kick activated the leg representation and words such as lick or speak the mouth and tongue representation. Emotion words also activated face and arm motor cortex the body parts with which emotions are being expressed but more abstract language sparked prefrontal areas and temporal poles. This brain activation evidence was collected with a range of research techniques, including event-related functional MRI, EEG, Magnetoencephalography (MEG) and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The results document that words and the actions they relate to are stored in distributed neural circuits that bind together sign and meaning and have specific cortical distributions. The close connection between language and action systems of the brain has implications for language therapy in patients who cannot speak and understand due to disease of the brain: A new treatment of post-stroke aphasia developed by MRC scientist Friedemann Pulvermuller in collaboration with international collaborators provides intensive training of language in action contexts tailored to the patients communication needs. The new technique, which can improve chronic post-stroke aphasia even several years after onset of the disease, has become known as Constraint-Induced Aphasia Therapy or Intensive Language-Action Therapy.

Technical Summary

The neuronal circuits of language are investigated using neuroimaging, patient studies and neuronal modelling. Results are translated into more efficient therapy methods for speech-language therapy in post-stroke aphasia. A neurobiological model of language processes is developed on the basis of established neuroscience principles and implemented in neuroanatomically and physiologically based neuronal network simulations. Model predictions are tested experimentally; results of these experiments, in turn, allow to develop the model further and eventually improve our understanding of language mechanisms in the human brain. In this endeavour, multiple experimental techniques are being used, including MEG, EEG, fMRI, TMS, intracranial recordings, as well as behavioural testing of healthy subjects and neurological patients, some of them in collaboration with other world-leading centres. Results are being applied in the development of new therapeutic techniques, especially for treating post-stroke aphasia. The projects research has five strands focussing, respectively, on the following topics: A. Explaining cognitive brain activity by neuroanatomically and -physiologically realistic neural network models B. Spatiotemporal MEG/EEG patterns indexing sensorimotor and linguistic information access C. Category-specific semantic systems and cortical circuits with specific distributions D. Syntactic circuits in the brain E. Language learning and therapy More detailed information can be found here: http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/research/speech-language/slfourresearchreport.html One of the main ideas from neuroscience, for which we could accumulate evidence in recent years, is that distributed discrete neuronal systems are the organic basis of language processing. These distributed systems bind information about the articulatory program and the auditory pattern constituting a spoken word, as they also are the binding devices linking word forms to their meanings. Additional grammatical binding units are envisaged to process syntactic information about the serial and hierarchical relationships between word stems and their affixes. Support for the existence of syntactic sequence detectors acting as a possible neural basis of discrete combinatorial rules comes from neurophysiological studies. A main focus of this project is on the rapid spreading of cortical activity. The time course of cortical activation can be monitored precisely using high-resolution MEG and EEG in conjunction with source localisation techniques, and more directly using intracranial recordings. We explore spatio-temporal patterns of this kind and try to link them to specific linguistic and cognitive processes. Our newly gained knowledge about the intrinsic functional connections between linguistic, object-related and action information at the level of the brain has clear implication for aphasia therapy. A new neurobehavioral method for intensive aphasia rehabilitation developed by Pulvermuller in collaooration with oversea collaborators exploits this knowledge by placing language training in action context (Constraint-Induced Aphasia Therapy). In collaboration with other centres, we explore the effect of this new treatment technique on the brain processes of language.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Bio-inspired Architecture for Brain Embodied Language, BABEL
Amount £430,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J00457X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2012 
End 03/2017
 
Description Brain dynamics of language in space and time
Amount £2,140,000 (GBP)
Funding ID MC_U105580445 
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2009 
End 05/2014
 
Description COST Action Aphasia Trialists
Amount € 512,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2013 
End 03/2017
 
Description CogNovo Project
Amount € 4,070,000 (EUR)
Funding ID FP7-PEOPLE-2013-ITN 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start  
 
Description Constructions and Combinations
Amount € 300,000 (EUR)
Funding ID DFG Pu 97/16-1 
Organisation German Research Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start  
 
Description DFG Open Scheme
Amount € 500,000 (EUR)
Organisation German Research Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2020
 
Description EU FP6 FET
Amount £1,500,000 (GBP)
Organisation Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 10/2006 
End 10/2009
 
Description EU FP7 NESTcom: What it means to communicate
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 43374 
Organisation European Commission 
Department Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2006 
End 09/2008
 
Description Excellence Centre Grant
Amount € 7,000,000 (EUR)
Organisation German Research Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start 10/2012 
End 09/2014
 
Description GSK biomarkers of Schizophrenia
Amount £150,000 (GBP)
Organisation GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) 
Sector Private
Country Global
Start 10/2008 
End 09/2011
 
Description Intensive Language Action Therapy
Amount € 430,000 (EUR)
Funding ID DFG Pu 97/15-1 
Organisation German Research Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start  
 
Description Interaction between motor, perceptual and linguistic systems
Amount € 250,000 (EUR)
Organisation German Research Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start 10/2012 
End 09/2014
 
Description MRC-Electa MEG Clinical Research Collaboration /Elekta Neuromag
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Elekta Inc 
Sector Private
Country Sweden
Start 10/2007 
End 10/2010
 
Description Startup grant scheme
Amount € 610,000 (EUR)
Organisation Free University of Berlin 
Sector Academic/University
Country Germany
Start 11/2011 
End 10/2016
 
Title Mismatch Negativity 
Description The MMN is a specific brain response which, in humans, indexes specific cognitive proceses (attention, language, memory circuits). For details, please refer to: Pulvermüller, F., & Shtyrov, Y. (2006). Language outside the focus of attention: the mismatch negativity as a tool for studying higher cognitive processes. Progress in Neurobiology, 79(1), 49-71. PMID 16814448 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2006 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Brain correlates of word processing as well as syntactic and semantic analysis can now be studied while subjects do not focus their attention on the input. This is of potential importance, as a range of brain diseases are accompanied by an inability of focussing attention and standard cognitive assessment is therefore difficult or even impossible. 
URL http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/16814448
 
Description BABEL - understanding language unterstanding at the neural level 
Organisation University of Manchester
Department School of Environment, Education and Development
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Neurocomputational modelling and fast neuroimgaing to understand language comprehension
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in neurocomputational modelling. Hi level interdisciplincary publications.expertise in neurocomputational modelling. hi level publications.
Impact EPSRC grant with U Plymouth and U Manchester has just been approved. Continuous publication stream over the last 5 years (involving Wennekers, Garagnani) in preparation of this new project.
Start Year 2010
 
Description BABEL - understanding language unterstanding at the neural level 
Organisation University of Plymouth
Department Computer Science and Informatics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Neurocomputational modelling and fast neuroimgaing to understand language comprehension
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in neurocomputational modelling. Hi level interdisciplincary publications.expertise in neurocomputational modelling. hi level publications.
Impact EPSRC grant with U Plymouth and U Manchester has just been approved. Continuous publication stream over the last 5 years (involving Wennekers, Garagnani) in preparation of this new project.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Biomarkers of Schizophrenia 
Organisation GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
Country Global 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Contract research
Collaborator Contribution Research collaboration to examine neurophysiological indexes of cognition in schizophrenia (other MRC scientists involved: Dr Yury Shtyrov, Dr. Rik Henson)
Impact Using MEG and three standard and 2 more innovative paradigms, we try to find neurophysiological biomarkers and indexes of schizophrenia.
Start Year 2008
 
Description Intensive language action therapy after chronic stroke 
Organisation Lundbeck Foundation
Country Denmark 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Consultancy on a project developing new and efficient methods for language therapy in chronic stroke
Collaborator Contribution Develpment of new aphasia therapy techniques. Highly QQ research relevant.
Impact Appropriate amounts of resources were available for funding research visits (1000 pounds is just a rough estimate of costs for one single visit; 5 visits had taken place in the previous quinquennium) The project focuses on optimizing Language-Action Therapy of Aphasia after Stroke. It is conducted in close collaboration with Prof. Marcelo Berthier at the Institute of Medical and Health Research, University of Malaga. This support allows me to further my translational research collaboration at the University of Malaga
 
Description MEG source localisation and clinical application 
Organisation Elekta Inc
Country Sweden 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Exploration of MEG source localisation and MEG meansures of clinical syndromes
Collaborator Contribution Two doctorate students are being funded who explore MEG as a research tool, also in the clinical domain
Impact Research collaboration with Elekta-Neuromag to investigate methodological and clinical aspects of MEG (other MRC scientists involved: Dr. Rik Henson, Dr. Yury Shtyrov, Prof. William Marslen-Wilson); Two doctorate students are being funded who explore MEG as a research tool, also in the clinical domain
Start Year 2006
 
Description The Impact of Sleep Deprivation investigated with MEG 
Organisation GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
Country Global 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Contact research
Collaborator Contribution Further work on CBU led MMN research
Impact Research collaboration on the impact of sleep deprivation on MEG (MRC coordinator: Dr. Rik Henson)
Start Year 2006
 
Title CIAT / ILAT Berlin Trial 
Description Intensive language action therapy / Constraint induced aphasia therapy, a behavioural method for language rehabilitation in patients suffering from pst chronic stroke aphasia 
Type Therapeutic Intervention - Psychological/Behavioural
Current Stage Of Development Late clinical evaluation
Year Development Stage Completed 2006
Development Status Under active development/distribution
Clinical Trial? Yes
Impact Improvement of language performance in patients with chronic post stroke aphasia 
 
Title Intensive Language Action Therapy in chronic PSA 
Description Behavioural therapy method, developed in the context of novel results from brain-language research, for improving language and communication in chronic post stroke aphasia. Proven efficient by RCTs in 2001 and 2009. Highlighted by Cochrane Review 2010 and 2012. 
Type Therapeutic Intervention - Psychological/Behavioural
Current Stage Of Development Refinement. Clinical
Year Development Stage Completed 2012
Development Status Under active development/distribution
Impact We could demonstrate for the first time, using RCTs, that aphasia therapy in chronic post stroke patients works. 
 
Description Aphasia Now Publication 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Primary Audience Health professionals
Results and Impact Posted webpage about constraint induced aphasia therapy, a new method for rehabilitation of stroke-related language deficits. http://www.aphasianow.org/Resources/Aphasia_Research/Pulvermuller_-_CIAT/

Many patient requests. Invitations to teach to health professionals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008,2009
 
Description TV/web interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact TV interview used in a series and website on language and robotics http://stream-tv.de/sendung/1253028/scobel-friedemann-pulvermueller-im-gespraech-mit-gert-scobel

Invitations to speak at conferences
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Television Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact An interview with Friedemann Pulvermuller on a programme called 'Why Reading Matters', aired on BBC 3 on 16th February

A range of contacts by interested parties, especially patients. Additional invitations to submit to BBC website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009