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BACKGROUND: Cluttering is a fluency disorder characterised by overly rapid or jerky speech patterns that compromise intelligibility. The neural correlates of cluttering are unknown but theoretical accounts implicate the basal ganglia and medial prefrontal cortex. Dysfunction in these brain areas would be consistent with difficulties in selection and control of speech motor programs that are characteristic of speech disfluencies in cluttering. There is a surprising lack of investigation into this disorder using modern imaging techniques. Here, we used functional MRI to investigate the neural correlates of cluttering. METHOD: We scanned 17 adults who clutter and 17 normally fluent control speakers matched for age and sex. Brain activity was recorded using sparse-sampling functional MRI while participants viewed scenes and either (i) produced overt speech describing the scene or (ii) read out loud a sentence provided that described the scene. Speech was recorded and analysed off line. Differences in brain activity for each condition compared to a silent resting baseline and between conditions were analysed for each group separately (cluster-forming threshold Z>3.1, extent p<0.05, corrected) and then these differences were further compared between the two groups (voxel threshold p<0.01, extent>30 voxels, uncorrected). RESULTS: In both conditions, the patterns of activation in adults who clutter and control speakers were strikingly similar, particularly at the cortical level. Direct group comparisons revealed greater activity in adults who clutter compared to control speakers in the lateral premotor cortex bilaterally and, as predicted, on the medial surface (pre-supplementary motor area). Subcortically, adults who clutter showed greater activity than control speakers in the basal ganglia. Specifically, the caudate nucleus and putamen were overactive in adults who clutter for the comparison of picture description with sentence reading. In addition, adults who clutter had reduced activity relative to control speakers in the lateral anterior cerebellum bilaterally. Eleven of the 17 adults who clutter also stuttered. This comorbid diagnosis of stuttering was found to contribute to the abnormal overactivity seen in the group of adults who clutter in the right ventral premotor cortex and right anterior cingulate cortex. In the remaining areas of abnormal activity seen in adults who clutter compared to controls, the subgroup who clutter and stutter did not differ from the subgroup who clutter but do not stutter. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings were in good agreement with theoretical predictions regarding the neural correlates of cluttering. We found evidence for abnormal function in the basal ganglia and their cortical output target, the medial prefrontal cortex. The findings are discussed in relation to models of cluttering that point to problems with motor control of speech. EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES: This paper reports findings on the neural correlates seen in adults who clutter, and offers hypotheses as to how these might map onto the behaviours seen amongst those who clutter. Readers will be able to (a) identify the structures that are implicated in the disorder of cluttering, (b) understand arguments relating these structures to the behavioural expression of the disorder, (c) understand some of the complexities in interpreting data pertaining to recovery from cluttering, (d) understand where future efforts in research into the neurological correlates of cluttering should be focussed.

Original publication




Journal article


J Fluency Disord

Publication Date





1 - 16


Cluttering, Fluency, Stuttering, fMRI, Adult, Basal Ganglia, Brain, Brain Mapping, Cerebellum, Comorbidity, Female, Frontal Lobe, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Reading, Speech, Speech Disorders, Speech Production Measurement, Stuttering