How localized is language in the brain?

New method localizes the language center in the brain

A new study at the University Clinic for Neurology at Med-Uni Vienna could be extremely important for future brain operations. For the first time, scientists have shown that the brain areas that are important for speech understanding can be diagnosed better with ultra-high field MR (7 Tesla) than with conventional clinical MR devices. These areas could now be protected in the event of interventions.

Before brain surgery, it is important to know exactly the areas of the brain that are necessary for speech so as not to injure them during the procedure. Because of tumors or injuries, their position can shift considerably.

Every brain is different

The flexibility of the brain also ensures that the language centers can shift to other areas. If areas of speech control and processing are injured during a brain operation, this can lead to an inability to speak.

Functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRI) is used nowadays to create a voice control "map" in advance. A multicenter study from 2013 showed the strengths of fMRI-assisted localizations in the brain.

In a new study by Roland Beisteiner's working group from the University Clinic for Neurology, it has now been shown for the first time that the areas of the brain that are important for speech understanding can be localized much better with ultra-high field MR than with conventional clinical MR devices.

The focus is on the two most important language centers in the brain - the Wernicke area, which controls speech understanding, and the Broca area, which controls the motor function of speech. While patients solve language tasks, the brain is scanned for activity.

The areas required for speaking can be localized more precisely than before.

Important insights

"The ultra-high field MR offers a much higher sensitivity than classic MR devices," explains Roland Beisteiner, "with it, even very weak signals can be recorded in regions that would otherwise have been overlooked".

The work was carried out in cooperation with the University Clinic for Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and other university clinics as well as with the support of a research cluster at the universities of Vienna and published in the leading journal "Neuroimage". (APA,, October 29, 2014)