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The use of speech is one of the greatest gifts to have in life. It is one of the most powerful ways we connect with others-sharing the breadth of our knowledge, the depth of our feelings, and the array of our ideas — sophisticated or comical — with those around us. When a speech disorder is present, the effects on your life can be profound and the challenges may feel insurmountable.

For these reasons, the field of speech therapy is dedicated to researching difficulties related to talking to better understand the nature of these disorders and to develop the most effective treatment options. Recently, Open Lines Speech and Communication was honored to be recognized for its excellence in this area with a featured article in Scientia publication on “Exploring the Neural Mechanisms of Speech and Language to Inform Clinical Practice.” This article highlights Open Lines’ executive director, Dr. Jessica Galgano’s research on how the brain produces speech to support the advancement of new and improved speech therapy treatment programs and highlights the significance of the connections among parts of the brain that manage emotions, anxiety, and the voice when speaking. 

This research by Dr. Galgano and several key collaborators, including Open Lines employees Brianna Rogers, Bridget Murray, Olivia Kelly, and Grace Tsang, has been integrated into the clinic setting as the team has fine-tuned Open Lines’ proprietary PRESENCE Approach™. 

Which Brain Area is Primarily Involved With Controlling Speech? 

As fascinating as the brain is, it can be difficult to understand it is exact involvement in speech and voice functions. At a high level, organs such as the larynx receive messages from the brain to help activate and coordinate muscles that allow you to produce the sound of your voice. As the sound of your voice travels up into your throat and oral cavity, your brain similarly organizes neurological messages that get sent to the muscles around your mouth including your tongue, lips, and facial muscles which help you make the sounds we recognize as words! 

The left side of your brain is primarily responsible for producing sounds and spoken words within sentences, which explains why any type of damage to this area will affect your ability to communicate.   

The goal of Dr. Galgano’s research is to help identify how neural pathways impact a person’s speech and voice and how emotion and surgical intervention alter neural pathways, allowing speech-language pathologists to better care for people who have survived a stroke, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injuries, or other neurological conditions. 

Brain and Speech Production 

Your emotions play a large role in how the brain functions. While many of these emotions affect how you think or feel, they also play a role in the production of speech. 

For example, anxiety and the experience of various emotions can cause symptoms to worsen in individuals who struggle with voice disorders, such as Adductor Type Spasmodic Dysphonia, stuttering, and apraxia, a motor planning disorder that can occur post-stroke. Connections between parts of the brain that control the voice and manage to speak with other parts of the brain that help you regulate anxiety, stress, fear, grief, and other strong emotions can influence your speech.  

Dr. Galgano and her team analyzed the periaqueductal gray (PAG), an area of the midbrain between the forebrain and the lower brain stem. The PAG is involved with vocalization and motor responses, among other functions

The research team used Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the latter of which helps detect changes in blood flow within the brain, to look at which areas of a person’s brain are more or less active during different activities. The analysis found the PAG and the amygdala, areas heavily involved in emotion and anxiety, were structurally and functionally connected to areas of the brain that were also involved in voice and speech production. Findings suggest stressful situations or strong emotions can affect the PAG’s ability to regulate motor control when speaking or using your voice.

In the past, the pathways involved in initiating speech had been difficult to study. Dr. Galgano’s research using electroencephalography, which measures electrical activity in different parts of the brain, determined several areas of the brain were the source of the voice-related potential that occurred several thousand milliseconds before the onset of vocal fold movement needed for voice. A future study is also looking at how the timing of this potential changes as people grow older.  

Among other findings highlighted in the Scientia publication, she and the research team analyzed how the pitch is modified. The team used fMRI to show how the insula, a small region of the cerebral cortex, is active during modulation of pitch, an essential skill needed to express emotion through voice, which can impact the meaning and delivery of our thoughts and feelings. 

About Dr. Jessica Galgano 

Dr. Galgano received her Ph.D. in Biobehavioral Sciences from Columbia University in 2007 and specializes in neurogenic speech, language, and voice disorders. She also received an MPhil from Columbia, as well as master’s and bachelor’s degrees from New York University.  

Dr. Galgano holds a faculty instructor position at NYU Grossman School of Medicine where she was involved in research examining which factors help post-stroke aphasia patients live successful lives. She has also been an adjunct professor at Columbia University, Teachers College, NYU, and San Francisco State University, sharing her knowledge on voice disorders, communication disorders that result from stroke, and motor speech disorders such as dysarthria and apraxia due to Parkinson’s disease and other progressive and acquired neurological disorders.  

Along with these educational achievements, Dr. Galgano is one of just a handful of certified LSVT LOUD® faculty instructors and clinical experts across the world. LSVT LOUD is known as the gold standard treatment approach for Parkinson’s disease that helps patients calibrate their sensory perceptions and learn how to control loudness and speech clarity when speaking to others. 

Speech Therapy at Open Lines 

Dr. Galgano has used her extensive knowledge of communication disorders to construct a unique and personal treatment approach at Open Lines. Whether you are recovering from a stroke or simply want to improve your public speaking, our experienced team offers speech therapy services to help you rebuild your life, improve your communication, and enhance your delivery. 

Contact Open Lines today by phone at 212-430-6800, by email at info@OpenLinesNY.com, or through our contact form. If you are ready to take the next steps in treating your speech or voice disorder, request an appointment to discuss your goals and review our service options. 

Get in Touch With Open Lines