Lateral frontal cortex oxygenation changes during translation and language switching revealed by non-invasive near-infrared multi-point measurements


The organisation of language in the brain of multilingual people remains controversial. Using a high temporal resolution 12-channel near-infrared continuous wave spectroscopy system, we have demonstrated that it is possible to monitor non-invasively, comfortably and, without the interferences due to intrinsic limitations of positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), cortical oxygenation changes in the Broca’s area in response to translation of short sentences and language switching. Eight Dutch students proficient in English translated aloud from their native language into English or vice versa or alternating (switching) short visually presented sentences. These tasks provoked, in the left inferior frontal cortex which includes the Broca’s area, a consistent and incremental rise in oxyhaemoglobin accompanied by a smaller decrease in deoxyhaemoglobin. The investigated cortical areas surrounding the Broca’s area showed no uniform and consistent oxygenation changes upon the three different translation tasks. These results confirm that Broca’s area is involved in the translation process and its so called activation is unaffected by the direction of the translation. In addition, these results strengthen the role of near-infrared multi-point measurements as a powerful tool for investigating the spatial and temporal features of the cortical oxygenation changes during language processing. © 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.

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