Human brain activation during phonation and exhalation: Common volitional control for two upper airway functions
ABSTRACT Phonation is defined as a laryngeal motor behavior used for speech production, which involves a highly specialized coordination of laryngeal and respiratory neuromuscular control. During speech, brief periods of vocal fold vibration for vowels are interspersed by voiced and unvoiced consonants, glottal stops and glottal fricatives (/h/). It remains unknown whether laryngeal/respiratory coordination of phonation for speech relies on separate neural systems from respiratory control or whether a common system controls both behaviors. To identify the central control system for human phonation, we used event-related fMRI to contrast brain activity during phonation with activity during prolonged exhalation in healthy adults. Both whole-brain analyses and region of interest comparisons were conducted. Production of syllables containing glottal stops and vowels was accompanied by activity in left sensorimotor, bilateral temporoparietal and medial motor areas. Prolonged exhalation similarly involved activity in left sensorimotor and temporoparietal areas but not medial motor areas. Significant differences between phonation and exhalation were found primarily in the bilateral auditory cortices with whole-brain analysis. The ROI analysis similarly indicated task differences in the auditory cortex with differences also detected in the inferolateral motor cortex and dentate nucleus of the cerebellum. A second experiment confirmed that activity in the auditory cortex only occurred during phonation for speech and did not depend upon sound production. Overall, a similar central neural system was identified for both speech phonation and voluntary exhalation that primarily differed in auditory monitoring.