Monday, August 18, 2008

Christian Kell at the Paris workshop

Here is the last talk of the Paris workshop: a few weeks late. Christian Kell was the last speaker. He is a post-doc at Ecole Normale, and did his PhD in Frankfurt where he collaborated with Katrin Neumann on brain imaging studies on stuttering. I have already dedicated one post to him, to recapitulate: he is famous for finding the sensory location of the male penis in the brain!
Thank God then for Christian Kell of the University of Frankfurt who stuffed eight blokes into an MRI scanner and then tickled bits of their bods with a feather while (no doubt) keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the brain activity monitor. The NS notes: "Each man's penis was represented in the same place - flanked by the areas for the toes and abdomen - Kell told the Organisation of Human Brain Mapping annual meeting in Toronto." Kell went on to lament: "The only depressing thing is that the representation is very small."
Katrin scolded me for writing about this, saying that he was shocked to read about this on my blog. I asked him at the conference, and of course it was not true but her over-reaction as always. Chris said that he was surprised by the deluge of interest, that he got used to it, because after all it will stay with him for the rest of his life. To be honest, I think he enjoys his claim for fame. Chris seems multi-talented. He asked good questions. His French for being a German is quite good. He was a driving force behind the conference. And at the end of the workhop, he played the piano supporting a singer he recruited. So if he fails to get another job in neuroscience, I am sure he can make his money in a piano bar in Pigalle!
Chris spoke about research he has done in collaboration with Katrin in Frankfurt. I haven't found the article on PubMed, so it might not be out yet. They looked at people who recovered unassisted, who improved due to a fluency shaping therapy (before, just after, and one year after), and controls. What are the brain differences? It is an interesting question. Is there a difference between unassisted recovered stutterers and controls? Is there a difference between unassisted and assisted recovered?
(It is important to say a few words on unassisted recovered. I am not sure he said something about it his talk. But, I remember someone saying that many are not really like fluent speakers, but still have hesitations at times. When you ask them about this, they say that they are fluent for all practical purposes. They do stress that fluent speech is not always automatic and that they have to work to get it. This is even more true for people who undergo therapy and become fluent. The major difference is probably that unassisted recovered have managed to have lasting improvement, whereas people who become (more) fluent through therapy are likely to relapse fully or partially.)
As with all the other talks, I do not have access to the slides, so I can only rely on the abstract and my notes. They use functional and structural MRI. Not surprisingly, they find grey matter reduction and white matter anomaly on the left side in all stutterers. I think also in unassisted recovered stutterers. So constancy across groups. However, there were clear difference in activation. Stutterers activated several regions on the right side including the activation of the right analogue of the anomalous left brain region. After therapy, the right hand side activation was normal except again activation of the right analogue. And unassisted recovered stutterers show similar activation but additionally showed activation in the anomalous right region. He refers to the Brodman area 47/12. And they conclude that: "recruitment of the left posterior orbitofrontal cortical region (BA 41/12) appeared in this study as a unique and necessary feature of long-lasting repair of stuttering.
He further states that this region is probably involved in executive control of rhythmic tension. He actually talked a lot about rhythm, but I did not follow it all. I just have written down that the right side keeps rhythm and the rhythm competence (not sure exactly what it stands for, but this is probably understanding rhythm as opposed to executing rhythmic tasks) is on the left side.
I asked him a question on methodology. They used people from a fluency shaping therapy: the Kassel Stuttering Therapy. I have also attended the intensive course plus a one-year daily practise. One striking feature is the strong rhythm and gently onset of the newly learned speech pattern. It is quite funny. If you go to Kassel, everyone speaks the same way. Though I have to say that this is on purpose and the idea is to reduce the strong rhythm gradually: over-learning. I was concerned that the stutterers were just using this way of speaking and so you should see activation in rhythm areas, after all you speak in a rhythm! He replied that they told them to try to speak as natural as possible. However, I do not completely buy this argument, because when I was in this mode of speaking and tried to speak normally, I found it hard to do. In fact, some region in my brain kept me in the other mode, and I would only gradually shift and loose the restraining power of the new speech mode. Anyway, it is an interesting study! ;-)


Anonymous said...

Tom - I note that this posting has had no reaction from your readers.

What does this mean, I wonder? That stutterers are not interested in brain imaging? That Google puts your blog on a blacklist and people can't find it? That stutterers are not interested in penises?

Tom Weidig said...

I always thought that sex sells?

Anonymous said...

I'm a guy who stutters, and I do care about my penis...Even if I do stutter....

Anonymous said...

Tom. I am a voice teacher and have occasionally worked with people who stutter. Your reference to the rhythmic nature of the Kassell speech pattern is interesting. There has been success in solving other speech issues (such as spastic dysphonia)by teaching people to sing rather than speak..apparently successful because singing uses a different part of the brain from speech. I wonder if there is any indication that the success of this treatment may be due in part to the musical quality of the speech pattern. BTW, the part in your article about the computer program requiring practice is probably also valid as a reason for success, and it makes me very happy as a music teacher.:-)