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date: 21 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Investigating the neural and physiological basis of language is one of the most important challenges in neurosciences. Direct electrical stimulation (DES), usually performed in awake patients during surgery for cerebral lesions, is a reliable tool for detecting both cortical and subcortical (white matter and deep grey nuclei) regions crucial for cognitive functions, especially language. DES transiently interacts locally with a small cortical or axonal site, but also nonlocally, as the focal perturbation will disrupt the entire subnetwork sustaining a given function. Thus, in contrast to functional neuroimaging, DES represents a unique opportunity to identify with great accuracy and reproducibility, in vivo in humans, the structures that are actually indispensable to the function, by inducing a transient virtual lesion based on the inhibition of a subcircuit lasting a few seconds. Currently, this is the sole technique that is able to directly investigate the functional role of white matter tracts in humans. Thus, combining transient disturbances elicited by DES with the anatomical data provided by pre- and postoperative MRI enables to achieve reliable anatomo-functional correlations, supporting a network organization of the brain, and leading to the reappraisal of models of language representation. Finally, combining serial peri-operative functional neuroimaging and online intraoperative DES allows the study of mechanisms underlying neuroplasticity. This chapter critically reviews the basic principles of DES, its advantages and limitations, and what DES can reveal about the neural foundations of language, that is, the large-scale distribution of language areas in the brain, their connectivity, and their ability to reorganize.

Keywords: direct electrical stimulation, cortical mapping, axonal mapping, language network, awake surgery, brain, connectome, neuroplasticity

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