The dynamic imprint of word learning on the dorsal language pathway

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Abstract

According to Hickok and Poeppel (2007), the acquisition of new vocabulary rests on the dorsal language pathway connecting auditory and motor areas. The present study tested this hypothesis longitudinally by measuring BOLD signal changes during a verbal repetition task and modulation of resting state functional connectivity (rs-FC) in the dorsal stream. Thirty-five healthy participants, divided into trained and control groups, completed fMRI sessions on days 1, 10, and 24. Between days 1 and 10, the trained group learned 84 new pseudowords associated with 84 native words. Task-related fMRI results showed a reduced activity in the IFG and STG while processing the learned vocabulary after training, returning to initial values two weeks later. Moreover, rs-fMRI analysis showed stronger rs-FC between the IFG and STG in the trained group than in the control group after learning, especially on day 24. These neural changes were more evident in participants with a larger vocabulary. Discussion focuses on the prominent role of the dorsal stream in vocabulary acquisition. Even when their meaning was known, newly learned words were again processed through the dorsal stream two weeks after learning, with the increase in rs-FC between auditory and motor areas being a relevant long-term imprint of vocabulary learning.

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