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Microstructural plasticity in the bilingual brain

By Daiyi Luo, Veronica P.Y. Kwok, Ping Li, Qing Liu, Wenlong Li, Yang Yang, Ke Zhou, Min Xu, Jia-Hong Gao, Li Hai Tan

Posted 02 Jun 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/657932 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.bandl.2019.104654)

The human brain has been uniquely equipped with the remarkable ability to acquire more than one language, as in bilingual individuals. Previous neuroimaging studies have indicated that learning a second language (L2) induced neuroplasticity at the macrostructural level. In this study, using the quantitative MRI (qMRI) combined with functional MRI (fMRI) techniques, we quantified the microstructural properties and tested whether second language learning modulates the microstructure in the bilingual brain. We found significant microstructural variations related to age of acquisition of second language in the left inferior frontal region and the left fusiform gyrus that are crucial for resolving lexical competition of bilinguals’ two languages. Early second language acquisition contributes to enhance cortical development at the microstructural level. Significant statement The ability to communicate in two languages is becoming more and more important in the increasingly global community. Does learning a second language (L2) affect the human brain development? At the macrostructural level, there has been neuroimaging evidence revealing neuroplasticity induced by the acquisition of L2. Here, we employed the quantitative MRI technique to investigate the microstructural variations related to L2 learning, and found that age of acquisition of L2, but not its proficiency, is associated with cortical proliferation. Early second language acquisition seems to enhance cortical development at the microstructural level.

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