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Recent Advances in Voice, Speech, and Language Research

Transformative Genetic Studies

  • Scientists have discovered and confirmed the genetic basis of speech and language disorders such as stuttering118 and SLI108 that previously were believed to be purely behavioral. These discoveries are likely to improve the classification, diagnosis, and treatment of language, reading, and speech disorders. They may also serve to reduce the stigma that individuals are “not trying hard enough,” which is often associated with these disorders.

Behavioral Phenotyping

  • Researchers have identified distinct and viable language phenotypes that may be used in future genetic studies.119, 120 The development of these classification systems will guide future investigations into the genetic, neurologic, and other causal factors that contribute to voice, speech, and language impairments.

Interventions

  • Studies have demonstrated the clinical benefit of behavioral treatments, such as exercise-based treatment programs for speech and voice disorders.121
  • Tissue engineering techniques have been established as a treatment strategy for laryngeal reconstruction in animal models of disease.122
  • Researchers have verified the presence of biological evidence of adaptive plasticity as a function of treatment for communication disorders associated with brain injury or disease.123, 124
  • Evidence has been found for the involvement of cognitive processes (i.e., short- term memory, attention, and executive functions) in language processing.125, 126 In addition, evidence for the use of supplemental treatments such as neurofeedback, medications, and deep brain stimulation for cognitive disorders is expanding.127, 128 These discoveries will leverage existing knowledge and inform the development of new treatment paradigms for voice, speech, and language impairments.

Bioengineering Advances

  • Scientists have developed computational and neural models of speech production and perception to predict brain activation patterns in both normal and disordered speech.129, 130
  • Researchers have developed brain computer interface (BCI) technology, the neural control of a computer through a point and click interface that supports communication.131, 132

Imaging Correlations

  • Clinical sub-phenotypes of primary progressive aphasia have been correlated with distinct brain changes.133
  • Brain imaging has been used to identify evidence of neuro-cognitive dysfunctions underlying non lesion-specific brain disorders, such as ASD.134
  • Novel imaging strategies that facilitate connectivity mapping have been developed to define the complex neural circuits involved in speech and language (both spoken and signed).135

Developmental Timing

  • Longitudinal studies have characterized brain development from infancy through adolescence, documenting a long developmental trajectory of brain development for the neural, muscular, and anatomic factors that underlie speech motor control and language.136
  • Researchers understand better both functional and structural brain plasticity associated with normal learning, hearing loss, and maladaptation in certain disorders.137 Such findings may inform the development of new treatment paradigms.