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Reductions in prefrontal activation predict off-topic utterances during speech production

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Original languageEnglish
Article number515
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2019


The ability to speak coherently is essential for effective communication but declines with age: older people more frequently produce tangential, off-topic speech. Little is known, however, about the neural systems that support coherence in speech production. Here, fMRI was used to investigate extended speech production in healthy older adults. Computational linguistic analyses were used to quantify the coherence of utterances produced in the scanner, allowing identification of the neural correlates of coherence for the first time. Highly coherent speech production was associated with increased activity in bilateral inferior prefrontal cortex (BA45), an area implicated in selection of task-relevant knowledge from semantic memory, and in bilateral rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (BA10), implicated more generally in planning of complex goal-directed behaviours. These findings demonstrate that neural activity during spontaneous speech production can be predicted from formal analysis of speech content, and that multiple prefrontal systems contribute to coherence in speech.

    Research areas

  • cognitive ageing, dementia, human behaviour, language

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