The Motor Somatotopy of Speech Perception

Alessandro D'Ausilio, Friedemann Pulvermüller, Paola Salmas, Ilaria Bufalari, Chiara Begliomini, Luciano Fadiga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Listening to speech recruits a network of fronto-temporo-parietal cortical areas [1]. Classical models consider anterior (motor) sites to be involved in speech production whereas posterior sites are considered to be involved in comprehension [2]. This functional segregation is challenged by action-perception theories suggesting that brain circuits for speech articulation and speech perception are functionally dependent [3, 4]. Although recent data show that speech listening elicits motor activities analogous to production [5-9], it's still debated whether motor circuits play a causal contribution to the perception of speech [10]. Here we administered transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to motor cortex controlling lips and tongue during the discrimination of lip- and tongue-articulated phonemes. We found a neurofunctional double dissociation in speech sound discrimination, supporting the idea that motor structures provide a specific functional contribution to the perception of speech sounds. Moreover, our findings show a fine-grained motor somatotopy for speech comprehension. We discuss our results in light of a modified "motor theory of speech perception" according to which speech comprehension is grounded in motor circuits not exclusively involved in speech production [8].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-385
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Mar 10 2009



ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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