Situating the Left-Lateralized Language Network in the Broader Organization of Multiple Specialized Large-Scale Distributed Networks

Published Date: 
September 23, 2020

Using procedures optimized to explore network organization within the individual, the topography of a candidate language network was characterized and situated within the broader context of adjacent networks. The candidate network was first identified using functional connectivity and replicated across individuals, acquisition tasks, and analytic methods. In addition to classical language regions near to perisylvian cortex and temporal pole, regions were also observed in dorsal posterior cingulate, midcingulate, anterior superior frontal and inferior temporal cortex. The candidate network was selectively activated when processing meaningful (as contrasted to non-word) sentences, while spatially adjacent networks showed minimal or even decreased activity. Results were replicated and triplicated across two prospectively acquired cohorts. Examined in relation to adjacent networks, the topography of the language network was found to parallel the motif of other association networks including the transmodal association networks linked to theory of mind and episodic remembering (often collectively called the default network). The several networks contained juxtaposed regions in multiple association zones. Outside of these juxtaposed higher-order networks, we further noted a distinct frontotemporal network situated between language regions and a frontal orofacial motor region and a temporal auditory region. A possibility is that these functionally-related sensorimotor regions might anchor specialization of neighboring association regions that develop into a language network. What is most striking is that the canonical language network appears to be just one of multiple similarly organized, differentially specialized distributed networks that populate the evolutionarily expanded zones of human association cortex.