Researchers at Children’s Hospital find Stuttering Related to Brain Circuits that Control Speech Production

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) have conducted the
first study of its kind, using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy
(MRS) to look at brain regions in both adults and children who stutter.

Consistent with past functional MRI studies, their findings demonstrate
neuro-metabolite alterations across the brain – linking stuttering to
changes in brain circuits that control speech production and circuits
that support attention and emotion. The study in now published online in
the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The research was led by Bradley S. Peterson, MD, Director of the
Institute for the Developing Mind at CHLA, and Professor and Director of
the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Keck School of
Medicine of the University of Southern California.

Developmental stuttering is a neuropsychiatric condition; its origins in
the brain are only partly known. In order to measure an index of neural
density related to stuttering in circuits and brain regions suspected to
be affected, the scientists performed proton shift imaging of the brain
in 47 children and 47 adults. The study included subjects both with and
without stuttering.

The research team found that affected brain regions included major nodes
of the so-called Bohland speech-production network (associated with the
regulation of motor activity); the default-mode network, (involved in
the regulation of attention); and the emotional-memory network
(responsible for regulating emotion.)

“That stuttering is related to speech and language-based brain circuits
seems clear,” says Peterson. “Attention-regulating portions of the brain
are related to control circuits that are important in governing
behavior. People with changes here are more likely to stutter and have
more severe stuttering. And emotions like anxiety and stress also tend
to make stuttering worse, likely because this network interacts with
language and attention control circuits.”

This initial, unique MRS study of stuttering confirmed that disturbances
in neuronal or membrane metabolism contribute to the development of
stuttering. Looking at a combination of children and adults in order to
detect the effects of stuttering, independent of life-stage, revealed
differences between children and adults within both the stuttering and
control samples. This suggests different metabolic profiles in children
versus adults who stutter. Few sex-specific effects of stuttering on
brain metabolites were observed.

Additional contributors to the study include Joseph O’Neill, PhD and
Elena Pozzi, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience; Zhengchao Dong, PhD,
and Xuejun Hao, PhD, Columbia University; Iliyan Ivanov, MD, Mount Sinai
Hospital; and Ravi Bansal, PhD, and Jay Desai, MD, CHLA and Keck School
of Medicine, USC. This study was funded by grant K02 74677 from the
National Institute of Mental Health, the Millhiser Family Trust, the
Suzanne Crosby Murphy endowment at Columbia University, and Children’s
Hospital Los Angeles.

About Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has been named the best children’s
hospital on the West Coast and among the top five in the nation for
clinical excellence with its selection to the prestigious U.S. News &
World Report Honor Roll. Children’s Hospital is home to The Saban
Research Institute, one of the largest and most productive pediatric
research facilities in the United States. Children’s Hospital is also
one of America’s premier teaching hospitals through its affiliation
since 1932 with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of
Southern California.

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Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Debra Kain, (323) 361-7628