Structural Neuroimaging

Forkel, S. J., & Catani, M. (2018). Structural Neuroimaging. In A. De Groot, & P. Hagoort (Eds.), Research Methods in Psycholinguistics and the Neurobiology of Language: A Practical Guide (pp. 288-308). Hoboken: Wiley. doi:10.1002/9781394259762.ch15.
Structural imaging based on computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has progressively replaced traditional post‐mortem studies in the process of identifying the neuroanatomical basis of language. In the clinical setting, the information provided by structural imaging has been used to confirm the exact diagnosis and formulate an individualized treatment plan. In the research arena, neuroimaging has permitted to understand neuroanatomy at the individual and group level. The possibility to obtain quantitative measures of lesions has improved correlation analyses between severity of symptoms, lesion load, and lesion location. More recently, the development of structural imaging based on diffusion MRI has provided valid solutions to two major limitations of more conventional imaging. In stroke patients, diffusion can visualize early changes due to a stroke that are otherwise not detectable with more conventional structural imaging, with important implications for the clinical management of acute stroke patients. Beyond the sensitivity to early changes, diffusion imaging tractography presents the possibility of visualizing the trajectories of individual white matter pathways connecting distant regions. A pathway analysis based on tractography is offering a new perspective in neurolinguistics. First, it permits to formulate new anatomical models of language function in the healthy brain and allows to directly test these models in the human population without any reliance on animal models. Second, by defining the exact location of the damage to specific white matter connections we can understand the contribution of different mechanisms to the emergence of language deficits (e.g., cortical versus disconnection mechanisms). Finally, a better understanding of the anatomical variability of different language networks is helping to identify new anatomical predictors of language recovery. In this chapter we will focus on the principles of structural MRI and, in particular, diffusion imaging and tractography and present examples of how these methods have informed our understanding of variance in language performances in the healthy brain and language deficits in patient populations.
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