Neural dynamics of learning sound-action associations.PLoS One 2008; 3(12):e3845Plos
A motor component is pre-requisite to any communicative act as one must inherently move to communicate. To learn to make a communicative act, the brain must be able to dynamically associate arbitrary percepts to the neural substrate underlying the pre-requisite motor activity. We aimed to investigate whether brain regions involved in complex gestures (ventral pre-motor cortex, Brodmann Area 44) were involved in mediating association between novel abstract auditory stimuli and novel gestural movements. In a functional resonance imaging (fMRI) study we asked participants to learn associations between previously unrelated novel sounds and meaningless gestures inside the scanner. We use functional connectivity analysis to eliminate the often present confound of 'strategic covert naming' when dealing with BA44 and to rule out effects of non-specific reductions in signal. Brodmann Area 44, a region incorporating Broca's region showed strong, bilateral, negative correlation of BOLD (blood oxygen level dependent) response with learning of sound-action associations during data acquisition. Left-inferior-parietal-lobule (l-IPL) and bilateral loci in and around visual area V5, right-orbital-frontal-gyrus, right-hippocampus, left-para-hippocampus, right-head-of-caudate, right-insula and left-lingual-gyrus also showed decreases in BOLD response with learning. Concurrent with these decreases in BOLD response, an increasing connectivity between areas of the imaged network as well as the right-middle-frontal-gyrus with rising learning performance was revealed by a psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis. The increasing connectivity therefore occurs within an increasingly energy efficient network as learning proceeds. Strongest learning related connectivity between regions was found when analysing BA44 and l-IPL seeds. The results clearly show that BA44 and l-IPL is dynamically involved in linking gesture and sound and therefore provides evidence that one of the mechanisms required for the evolution of human communication is found within these motor regions.