The Right Posterior Paravermis and the Control of Language Interference
Auditory and written language in humans’ comprehension necessitates attention to the message of interest and suppression of interference from distracting sources. Investigating the brain areas associated with the control of interference is challenging because it is inevitable that activation of the brain regions that control interference co-occurs with activation related to interference per se. To isolate the mechanisms that control verbal interference, we used a combination of structural and functional imaging techniques in Italian and German participants who spoke English as a second language. First, we searched structural MRI images of Italian participants for brain regions in which brain structure correlated with the ability to suppress interference from the unattended dominant language (Italian) while processing heard sentences in their weaker language (English). This revealed an area in the posterior paravermis of the right cerebellum in which gray matter density was higher in individuals who were better at controlling verbal interference. Second, we found functional activation in the same region when our German participants made semantic decisions on written English words in the presence of interference from unrelated words in their dominant language (German). This combination of structural and functional imaging therefore highlights the contribution of the right posterior paravermis to the control of verbal interference. We suggest that the importance of this region for language processing has previously been missed because most fMRI studies limit the field of view to increase sensitivity, with the lower part of the cerebellum being the region most likely to be excluded.
from the Journal of Neuroscience