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      Sensorimotor activation related to speaker vs. listener role during natural conversation

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          • Simultaneous MEG recordings from two persons during live interaction.

          • Left-lateralized involvement of sensorimotor cortex during natural conversation.

          • Phasic modulation of sensorimotor rhythm indexing preparation to own speaking turn.


          Although the main function of speech is communication, the brain bases of speaking and listening are typically studied in single subjects, leaving unsettled how brain function supports interactive vocal exchange. Here we used whole-scalp magnetoencephalography (MEG) to monitor modulation of sensorimotor brain rhythms related to the speaker vs. listener roles during natural conversation.

          Nine dyads of healthy adults were recruited. The partners of a dyad were engaged in live conversations via an audio link while their brain activity was measured simultaneously in two separate MEG laboratories.

          The levels of ∼10-Hz and ∼20-Hz rolandic oscillations depended on the speaker vs. listener role. In the left rolandic cortex, these oscillations were consistently (by ∼20%) weaker during speaking than listening. At the turn changes in conversation, the level of the ∼10 Hz oscillations enhanced transiently around 1.0 or 2.3 s before the end of the partner’s turn.

          Our findings indicate left-hemisphere-dominant involvement of the sensorimotor cortex during own speech in natural conversation. The ∼10-Hz modulations could be related to preparation for starting one’s own turn, already before the partner’s turn has finished.

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          Most cited references 28

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          The mammalian cerebral cortex generates a variety of rhythmic oscillations, detectable directly from the cortex or the scalp. Recent non-invasive recordings from intact humans, by means of neuromagnetometers with large sensor arrays, have shown that several regions of the healthy human cortex have their own intrinsic rhythms, typically 8-40 Hz in frequency, with modality- and frequency-specific reactivity. The conventional hypotheses about the functional significance of brain rhythms extend from epiphenomena to perceptual binding and object segmentation. Recent data indicate that some cortical rhythms can be related to periodic activity of peripheral sensor and effector organs.
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            Functional segregation of movement-related rhythmic activity in the human brain.

            Multiple synaptic interconnections in the human brain support concerted rhythmic activity of a large number of cortical neurons, typically close to 10 and 20 Hz. Our present neuromagnetic data provide evidence for distinct functional roles of these spectral components in the somatomotor cortex. The sites of suppression during movement and the subsequent rebound of the 20-Hz rhythm followed, along the motor cortex, the representation of fingers, toes, and mouth, as opposed to the stable origin of the 10-Hz rhythms close to the hand somatosensory cortex. The 20-Hz activity appears to be a signature of active immobilization following movement, whereas the reactive 10-Hz signals likely reflect lack of relevant sensory input from the important upper limbs.
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              Hierarchy of orofacial rhythms revealed through whisking and breathing.

              Whisking and sniffing are predominant aspects of exploratory behaviour in rodents. Yet the neural mechanisms that generate and coordinate these and other orofacial motor patterns remain largely uncharacterized. Here we use anatomical, behavioural, electrophysiological and pharmacological tools to show that whisking and sniffing are coordinated by respiratory centres in the ventral medulla. We delineate a distinct region in the ventral medulla that provides rhythmic input to the facial motor neurons that drive protraction of the vibrissae. Neuronal output from this region is reset at each inspiration by direct input from the pre-Bötzinger complex, such that high-frequency sniffing has a one-to-one relationship with whisking, whereas basal respiration is accompanied by intervening whisks that occur between breaths. We conjecture that the respiratory nuclei, which project to other premotor regions for oral and facial control, function as a master clock for behaviours that coordinate with breathing.

                Author and article information

                Neurosci Lett
                Neurosci. Lett
                Neuroscience Letters
                Elsevier Scientific Publishers Ireland
                12 February 2016
                12 February 2016
                : 614
                : 99-104
                Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering & the MEG Core, Aalto NeuroImaging, School of Science, Aalto University, Finland
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. Fax: +358 9 470 22969. anne.mandel@

                Present address: BCBL, Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, San Sebastian, Spain.

                © 2015 The Authors

                This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

                Research Paper


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