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As an alternative to fMRI, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a relatively new tool for observing cortical activation. However, spatial resolution is reduced compared to fMRI and often the exact locations of fNIRS optodes and specific anatomical information is not known. The aim of this study was to explore the location and range of specific regions of interest that are sensitive to detecting cortical activation using fNIRS in response to auditory- and visual-only connected speech. Two approaches to a priori region-of-interest selection were explored. First, broad regions corresponding to the auditory cortex and occipital lobe were analysed. Next, the fNIRS Optode Location Decider (fOLD) tool was used to divide the auditory and visual regions into two subregions corresponding to distinct anatomical structures. The Auditory-A and -B regions corresponded to Heschl's gyrus and planum temporale, respectively. The Visual-A region corresponded to the superior occipital gyrus and the cuneus, and the Visual-B region corresponded to the middle occipital gyrus. The experimental stimulus consisted of a connected speech signal segmented into 12.5-sec blocks and was presented in either an auditory-only or visual-only condition. Group-level results for eight normal-hearing adult participants averaged over the broad regions of interest revealed significant auditory-evoked activation for both the left and right broad auditory regions of interest. No significant activity was observed for any other broad region of interest in response to any stimulus condition. When divided into subregions, there was a significant positive auditory-evoked response in the left and right Auditory-A regions, suggesting activation near the primary auditory cortex in response to auditory-only speech. There was a significant positive visual-evoked response in the Visual-B region, suggesting middle occipital gyrus activation in response to visual-only speech. In the Visual-A region, however, there was a significant negative visual-evoked response. This result suggests a significant decrease in oxygenated hemoglobin in the superior occipital gyrus as well as the cuneus in response to visual-only speech. Distinct response characteristics, either positive or negative, in adjacent subregions within the temporal and occipital lobes were fairly consistent on the individual level. Results suggest that temporal regions near Heschl's gyrus may be the most advantageous location in adults for identifying hemodynamic responses to complex auditory speech signals using fNIRS. In the occipital lobe, regions corresponding to the facial processing pathway may prove advantageous for measuring positive responses to visual speech using fNIRS.
- functional near-infrared spectroscopy
- speech processing
- regions of interest