AIMS: Developmental stuttering is now generally considered to arise from genetic determinants interacting with neurologic function. Changes within speech-motor white matter (WM) connections may also be implicated. These connections can now be studied in great detail by high-angular-resolution diffusion magnetic resonance imaging. Therefore, diffusion spectrum imaging was used to reconstruct streamlines to examine white matter connections in people who stutter (PWS) and in people who do not stutter (PWNS).
METHOD: WM morphology of the entire brain was assayed in 8 right-handed male PWS and 8 similarly aged right-handed male PWNS. WM was exhaustively searched using a deterministic algorithm that identifies missing or largely misshapen tracts. To be abnormal, a tract (defined as all streamlines connecting a pair of gray matter regions) was required to be at least one 3rd missing, in 7 out of 8 subjects in one group and not in the other group.
RESULTS: Large portions of bilateral arcuate fasciculi, a heavily researched speech pathway, were abnormal in PWS. Conversely, all PWS had a prominent connection in the left temporo-striatal tract connecting frontal and temporal cortex that was not observed in PWNS.
CONCLUSION: These previously unseen structural differences of WM morphology in classical speech-language circuits may underlie developmental stuttering.