Sulcal variability, stereological measurement and asymmetry of Broca's area on MR images


Dr Simon Keller, MARIARC, The University of Liverpool, Pembroke Place, Liverpool, L69 3BX, UK. T: 0151 7954624; F: 0151 7945635; E:


Leftward volume asymmetry of the pars opercularis and pars triangularis may exist in the human brain, frequently referred to as Broca's area, given the functional asymmetries observed in this region with regard to language expression. However, post-mortem and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have failed to consistently identify such a volumetric asymmetry. In the present study, an analysis of the asymmetry of sulco-gyral anatomy and volume of this anterior speech region was performed in combination with an analysis of the morphology and volume asymmetry of the planum temporale, located within the posterior speech region, in 50 healthy subjects using MRI. Variations in sulcal anatomy were documented according to strict classification schemes and volume estimation of the grey matter within the brain structures was performed using the Cavalieri method of stereology. Results indicated great variation in the morphology of and connectivity between the inferior frontal, inferior precentral and diagonal sulci. There were significant inter-hemispheric differences in the presence of (1) the diagonal sulcus within the pars opercularis, and (2) horizontal termination of the posterior Sylvian fissure (relative to upward oblique termination), both with an increased leftward incidence. Double parallel inferior precentral sulci and absent anterior rami of the Sylvian fissure prevented stereological measurements in five subjects. Therefore volumes were obtained from 45 subjects. There was a significant leftward volume asymmetry of the pars opercularis (P = 0.02), which was significantly related to the asymmetrical presence of the diagonal sulcus (P < 0.01). Group-wise pars opercularis volume asymmetry did not exist when a diagonal sulcus was present in both or neither hemispheres. There was no significant volume asymmetry of the pars triangularis. There was a significant leftward volume asymmetry of the planum temporale (P < 0.001), which was significantly associated with the shape of the posterior Sylvian fissure as a unilateral right or left upward oblique termination was always associated with leftward or rightward volume asymmetry respectively (P < 0.01). There was no relationship between volume asymmetries of the anterior and posterior speech regions. Our findings illustrate the extent of morphological variability of the anterior speech region and demonstrate the difficulties encountered when determining volumetric asymmetries of the inferior frontal gyrus, particularly when sulci are discontinuous, absent or bifid. When the intrasulcal grey matter of this region is exhaustively sampled according to strict anatomical landmarks, the volume of the pars opercularis is leftward asymmetrical. This manuscript illustrates the importance of simultaneous consideration of brain morphology and morphometry in studies of cerebral asymmetry.