Broca's region: Cytoarchitectonic asymmetry and developmental changes



Functional imaging and clinical studies in children and adults have provided evidence of developmental changes in the hemispheric specialization for language. Whereas cytoarchitectonic asymmetry has been demonstrated in Broca's region of adults, the anatomical correlates of developmental changes in language dominance are largely unknown. In the present postmortem study of 34 human brains (ages ranging from 3.5 months to 85 years), the cytoarchitecture of areas 44 and 45 as the putative anatomical correlates of Broca's region, their developmental changes, and interhemispheric asymmetry were analyzed. Asymmetry as estimated by Euclidean distances between feature vectors of cytoarchitectonic profiles of left and right areas 44 and 45 was already found in 1-year-old infants. Asymmetry tended to increase with age, which was significant in area 45, but not in area 44. An adult-like, left-larger-than-right asymmetry in the volume fraction of cell bodies [gray level index (GLI)] was reached at approximately 5 years in area 45 and 11 years in area 44. These time points indicate a delayed development of the cytoarchitectonic asymmetry in Broca's region in comparison with that of the primary motor cortex. It may be hypothesized that the delayed maturation is the microstructural basis of the development of language abilities and the influence of language practice on cytoarchitecture during childhood. Interhemispheric asymmetry in the cytoarchitecture of areas 44 and 45 continues to change throughout life. We conclude that the cytoarchitectonic asymmetry of areas 44 and 45 is a result of microstructural plasticity that endures throughout almost the whole lifespan. J. Comp. Neurol. 465:72–89, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.