Stuttering as a trait or state – an ALE meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies

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Stuttering is a speech disorder characterised by repetitions, prolongations and blocks that disrupt the forward movement of speech. An earlier meta-analysis of brain imaging studies of stuttering (Brown et al., 2005) revealed a general trend towards rightward lateralization of brain activations and hyperactivity in the larynx motor cortex bilaterally. The present study sought not only to update that meta-analysis with recent work but to introduce an important distinction not present in the first study, namely the difference between ‘trait’ and ‘state’ stuttering. The analysis of trait stuttering compares people who stutter (PWS) with people who do not stutter when behaviour is controlled for, i.e., when speech is fluent in both groups. In contrast, the analysis of state stuttering examines PWS during episodes of stuttered speech compared with episodes of fluent speech. Seventeen studies were analysed using activation likelihood estimation. Trait stuttering was characterised by the well-known rightward shift in lateralization for language and speech areas. State stuttering revealed a more diverse pattern. Abnormal activation of larynx and lip motor cortex was common to the two analyses. State stuttering was associated with overactivation in the right hemisphere larynx and lip motor cortex. Trait stuttering was associated with overactivation of lip motor cortex in the right hemisphere but underactivation of larynx motor cortex in the left hemisphere. These results support a large literature highlighting laryngeal and lip involvement in the symptomatology of stuttering, and disambiguate two possible sources of activation in neuroimaging studies of persistent developmental stuttering.

When people stutter they over-activate the lip and larynx areas of motor cortex (red) and under-activate auditory cortex (blue). However, even when people who stutter are speaking fluently, they use the speech network differently than people who do not stutter.

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