Contributions of the left and right thalami to language: A meta-analytic approach

Bulut, T., & Hagoort, P. (2024). Contributions of the left and right thalami to language: A meta-analytic approach. Brain Structure & Function. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s00429-024-02795-3.
Background: Despite a pervasive cortico-centric view in cognitive neuroscience, subcortical structures including the thalamus have been shown to be increasingly involved in higher cognitive functions. Previous structural and functional imaging studies demonstrated cortico-thalamo-cortical loops which may support various cognitive functions including language. However, large-scale functional connectivity of the thalamus during language tasks has not been examined before. Methods: The present study employed meta-analytic connectivity modeling to identify language-related coactivation patterns of the left and right thalami. The left and right thalami were used as regions of interest to search the BrainMap functional database for neuroimaging experiments with healthy participants reporting language-related activations in each region of interest. Activation likelihood estimation analyses were then carried out on the foci extracted from the identified studies to estimate functional convergence for each thalamus. A functional decoding analysis based on the same database was conducted to characterize thalamic contributions to different language functions. Results: The results revealed bilateral frontotemporal and bilateral subcortical (basal ganglia) coactivation patterns for both the left and right thalami, and also right cerebellar coactivations for the left thalamus, during language processing. In light of previous empirical studies and theoretical frameworks, the present connectivity and functional decoding findings suggest that cortico-subcortical-cerebellar-cortical loops modulate and fine-tune information transfer within the bilateral frontotemporal cortices during language processing, especially during production and semantic operations, but also other language (e.g., syntax, phonology) and cognitive operations (e.g., attention, cognitive control). Conclusion: The current findings show that the language-relevant network extends beyond the classical left perisylvian cortices and spans bilateral cortical, bilateral subcortical (bilateral thalamus, bilateral basal ganglia) and right cerebellar regions.
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