Agrammatic but numerate.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Mar 1;102(9):3519-24.

Varley RA, Klessinger NJ, Romanowski CA, Siegal M.

Department of Human Communication Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TA, United Kingdom.

A central question in cognitive neuroscience concerns the extent to which language enables other higher cognitive functions. In the case of mathematics, the resources of the language faculty, both lexical and syntactic, have been claimed to be important for exact calculation, and some functional brain imaging studies have shown that calculation is associated with activation of a network of left-hemisphere language regions, such as the angular gyrus and the banks of the intraparietal sulcus. We investigate the integrity of mathematical calculations in three men with large left-hemisphere perisylvian lesions. Despite severe grammatical impairment and some difficulty in processing phonological and orthographic number words, all basic computational procedures were intact across patients. All three patients solved mathematical problems involving recursiveness and structure-dependent operations (for example, in generating solutions to bracket equations). To our knowledge, these results demonstrate for the first time the remarkable independence of mathematical calculations from language grammar in the mature cognitive system.

Integration of Word Meaning and World Knowledge in Language Comprehension

Science, Vol 304, Issue 5669, 438-441, 16 April 2004 doi:10.1126/science.1095455

Peter Hagoort,1,2,3* Lea Hald,1 Marcel Bastiaansen,1 Karl Magnus Petersson1

Although the sentences that we hear or read have meaning, this does not necessarily mean that they are also true. Relatively little is known about the critical brain structures for, and the relative time course of, establishing the meaning and truth of linguistic expressions. We present electroencephalogram data that show the rapid parallel integration of both semantic and world knowledge during the interpretation of a sentence. Data from functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that the left inferior prefrontal cortex is involved in the integration of both meaning and world knowledge. Finally, oscillatory brain responses indicate that the brain keeps a record of what makes a sentence hard to interpret.

Parallel FoxP1 and FoxP2 Expression in Songbird and Human Brain Predicts Functional Interaction

The Journal of Neuroscience, March 31, 2004, 24(13):3152-3163; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5589-03.2004

Ikuko Teramitsu,1 Lili C. Kudo,2 Sarah E. London,2 Daniel H. Geschwind,2,4 and Stephanie A. White1,2,3

Humans and songbirds are two of the rare animal groups that modify their innate vocalizations. The identification of FOXP2 as the monogenetic locus of a human speech disorder exhibited by members of the family referred to as KE enables the first examination of whether molecular mechanisms for vocal learning are shared between humans and songbirds. We find that FOXP1 and FOXP2 expression patterns in human fetal brain are strikingly similar to those in the songbird, including localization to subcortical structures that function in sensorimotor integration and the control of skilled, coordinated movement. The specific colocalization of FoxP1 and FoxP2 found in several structures in the bird and human brain predicts that mutations in FOXP1 could also be related to speech disorders.

The Journal of Neuroscience, March 31, 2004, 24(13):3164-3175; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4369-03.2004

FoxP2 Expression in Avian Vocal Learners and Non-Learners

Sebastian Haesler,1 * Kazuhiro Wada,2 * A. Nshdejan,1 Edward E. Morrisey,4 Thierry Lints,3 Eric D. Jarvis,2 and Constance Scharff1

Most vertebrates communicate acoustically, but few, among them humans, dolphins and whales, bats, and three orders of birds, learn this trait. FOXP2 is the first gene linked to human speech and has been the target of positive selection during recent primate evolution. To test whether the expression pattern of FOXP2 is consistent with a role in learned vocal communication, we cloned zebra finch FoxP2 and its close relative FoxP1 and compared mRNA and protein distribution in developing and adult brains of a variety of avian vocal learners and non-learners, and a crocodile. We found that the protein sequence of zebra finch FoxP2 is 98% identical with mouse and human FOXP2. In the avian and crocodilian forebrain, FoxP2 was expressed predominantly in the striatum, a basal ganglia brain region affected in patients with FOXP2 mutations. Strikingly, in zebra finches, the striatal nucleus Area X, necessary for vocal learning, expressed more FoxP2 than the surrounding tissue at post-hatch days 35 and 50, when vocal learning occurs. In adult canaries, FoxP2 expression in Area X differed seasonally; more FoxP2 expression was associated with times when song becomes unstable. In adult chickadees, strawberry finches, song sparrows, and Bengalese finches, Area X expressed FoxP2 to different degrees. Non-telencephalic regions in both vocal learning and non-learning birds, and in crocodiles, were less variable in expression and comparable with regions that express FOXP2 in human and rodent brains. We conclude that differential expression of FoxP2 in avian vocal learners might be associated with vocal plasticity.