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Beyond Hemispheric Dominance: Brain Regions Underlying The Joint Lateralization Of Language And Arithmetic To The Left Hemisphere

Philippe Pinel, Stanislas Dehaene

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Language and arithmetic are both lateralized to the left hemisphere in the majority of right-handed adults. Yet, does this similar lateralization reflect a single overall constraint of brain organization, such an overall “dominance” of the left hemisphere for all linguistic and symbolic operations? Is it related to the lateralization of specific cerebral subregions? Or is it merely coincidental? To shed light on this issue, we performed a “colateralization analysis” over 209 healthy subjects: We investigated whether normal variations in the degree of left hemispheric asymmetry in areas involved in sentence listening and reading are mirrored in the asymmetry of areas involved in mental arithmetic. Within the language network, a region-of-interest analysis disclosed partially dissociated patterns of lateralization, inconsistent with an overall “dominance” model. Only two of these areas presented a lateralization during sentence listening and reading which correlated strongly with the lateralization of two regions active during calculation. Specifically, the profile of asymmetry in the posterior superior temporal sulcus during sentence processing covaried with the asymmetry of calculation-induced activation in the intraparietal sulcus, and a similar colateralization linked the middle frontal gyrus with the superior posterior parietal lobule. Given recent neuroimaging results suggesting a late emergence of hemispheric asymmetries for symbolic arithmetic during childhood, we speculate that these colateralizations might constitute developmental traces of how the acquisition of linguistic symbols affects the cerebral organization of the arithmetic network.