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Neural circuitry of the “rhythm effect” (Frankford et al., 2021)

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-04-22, 22:23 authored by Saul A. Frankford, Elizabeth S. Heller Murray, Matthew Masapollo, Shanqing Cai, Jason A. Tourville, Alfonso Nieto-Castañón, Frank H. Guenther
Purpose: Stuttering is characterized by intermittent speech disfluencies, which are dramatically reduced when speakers synchronize their speech with a steady beat. The goal of this study was to characterize the neural underpinnings of this phenomenon using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Method: Data were collected from 16 adults who stutter and 17 adults who do not stutter while they read sentences aloud either in a normal, self-paced fashion or paced by the beat of a series of isochronous tones (“rhythmic”). Task activation and task-based functional connectivity analyses were carried out to compare neural responses between speaking conditions and groups after controlling for speaking rate.
Results: Adults who stutter produced fewer disfluent trials in the rhythmic condition than in the normal condition. Adults who stutter did not have any significant changes in activation between the rhythmic condition and the normal condition, but when groups were collapsed, participants had greater activation in the rhythmic condition in regions associated with speech sequencing, sensory feedback control, and timing perception. Adults who stutter also demonstrated increased functional connectivity among cerebellar regions during rhythmic speech as compared to normal speech and decreased connectivity between the left inferior cerebellum and the left prefrontal cortex.
Conclusions: Modulation of connectivity in the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex during rhythmic speech suggests that this fluency-inducing technique activates a compensatory timing system in the cerebellum and potentially modulates top-down motor control and attentional systems. These findings corroborate previous work associating the cerebellum with fluency in adults who stutter and indicate that the cerebellum may be targeted to enhance future therapeutic interventions.

Included are Supplemental Figures S1-S19 and Supplemental Tables S1-S4.

Frankford, S. A., Heller Murray, E. S., Masapollo, M., Cai, S., Tourville, J. A., Nieto-Castañón, A., & Guenther, F. H. (2021). The neural circuitry underlying the “rhythm effect” in stuttering. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication.

Publisher Note: This article is part of the Special Issue: Selected Papers From the 2020 Conference on Motor Speech—Basic Science and Clinical Innovation.


The research reported here was supported by National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Grants R01DC007683 (F. H. Guenther, Principal Investigator [PI]) and T32DC013017 (training for S. A. Frankford and E. S. Heller Murray; Christopher Moore, PI) and by National Science Foundation Grant NSF1625552 (Boston University Cognitive Neuroimaging Center Research Instrumentation Grant; Chantal Stern, PI).