Common neural substrates support speech and non-speech vocal tract gestures

Soo Eun Chang, Mary Kay Kenney, Torrey M.J. Loucks, Christopher J. Poletto, Christy L. Ludlow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The issue of whether speech is supported by the same neural substrates as non-speech vocal tract gestures has been contentious. In this fMRI study we tested whether producing non-speech vocal tract gestures in humans shares the same functional neuroanatomy as non-sense speech syllables. Production of non-speech vocal tract gestures, devoid of phonological content but similar to speech in that they had familiar acoustic and somatosensory targets, was compared to the production of speech syllables without meaning. Brain activation related to overt production was captured with BOLD fMRI using a sparse sampling design for both conditions. Speech and non-speech were compared using voxel-wise whole brain analyses, and ROI analyses focused on frontal and temporoparietal structures previously reported to support speech production. Results showed substantial activation overlap between speech and non-speech function in regions. Although non-speech gesture production showed greater extent and amplitude of activation in the regions examined, both speech and non-speech showed comparable left laterality in activation for both target perception and production. These findings posit a more general role of the previously proposed "auditory dorsal stream" in the left hemisphere - to support the production of vocal tract gestures that are not limited to speech processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-325
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH. The authors wish to thank Richard Reynolds and Gang Chen for assistance during data analyses and Sandra Martin for conducting speech and language testing.


  • Auditory dorsal stream
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • Non-speech
  • Sensory-motor interaction
  • Speech perception
  • Speech production


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