Skip to main content Accessibility help

Microstructural anatomical differences between bilinguals and monolinguals



DTI is an established method to study cerebral white-matter microstructure. Two established measures of DTI are fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) and both differ for bilingual and monolingual speakers. Less is known about differences in two other measures called radial (RD) and axial diffusivity (AD). We report differences in mean RD and AD-values in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) and forceps minor between bilingual (Hindi–English) and monolingual (English) speakers as well as differences in mean FA-values in the anterior thalamic radiation, right inferior fronto-occipital and inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF) and mean MD-values in forceps minor and bilateral SLF. Noteworthy, a positive correlation between L2 proficiency and mean RD-values in the right SLF was observed. We suggest that changes in the geometry of white matter tracts reflect regular bilingual language experience and contend that neuroplasticity in right SLF results from demands on cognitive control for bilingual speakers.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Microstructural anatomical differences between bilinguals and monolinguals
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Microstructural anatomical differences between bilinguals and monolinguals
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Microstructural anatomical differences between bilinguals and monolinguals
      Available formats


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Professor Jubin Abutalebi, Faculty of Psychology, University San Raffaele, Via Olgettina 58, 20132 Milan,


Hide All

* This research was supported by Research Grant 754412 awarded to Brendan S. Weekes from the General Research Fund, Research Grants Council of Hong Kong.



Hide All
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2016). Neuroimaging of language control in bilinguals: neural adaptation and reserve. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. DOI:10.1017/S1366728916000225
Abutalebi, J., Canini, M., Della Rosa, P. A., Sheung, L. P., Green, D. W., & Weekes, B. S. (2014). Bilingualism protects anterior temporal lobe integrity in aging. Neurobiology of Aging, 35, 21262133.
Abutalebi, J., Canini, M., Della Rosa, P. A., Green, D. W., & Weekes, B. S. (2015). The neuroprotective effects of bilingualism upon the inferior parietal lobule: A structural neuroimaging study in aging Chinese bilinguals. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 33, 313.
Abutalebi, J., Rosa, P. A. D., Castro Gonzaga, A. K., Keim, R., Costa, A., & Perani, D. (2013). The role of the left putamen in multilingual language production. Brain and Language, 125, 307315.
Abutalebi, J., Della Rosa, P. A., Green, D. W., Hernandez, M., Scifo, P., Keim, R., & Costa, A. (2012). Bilingualism tunes the anterior cingulate cortex for conflict monitoring. Cerebral Cortex, 22 (9), 20762086.
Abutalebi, J. (2008). Neural processing of second language representation and control. Acta Psychologica, 128, 466478.
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. (2007). Bilingual language production: The neurocognition of language representation and control. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 20, 242275.
Abutalebi, J., Brambati, S. M., Annoni, J. M., Moro, A., Cappa, S. F., & Perani, D. (2007). The neural cost of the auditory perception of language switches: an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study in bilinguals. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 1376213769.
Alexander, A. L., Lee, J. E., Lazar, M., & Field, A. S. (2007). Diffusion tensor imaging of the brain.Neurotherapeutics: The Journal of the American Society for Experimental Neuro-Therapeutics, 4 (3), 316329.
Altarelli, I., Monzalvo, K., Fluss, J., & Dubois, J. (2012). The influence of socioeconomic status on children's brain structure, 7 (8).
Andersson, J. L. R., Jenkinson, M., & Smith, S. M. (2007a). Non-linear optimisation. FMRIB technical report TR07JA1. In Practice, (June), 16. Retrieved from
Andersson, J. L. R., Jenkinson, M., & Smith, S. M. (2007b). Non-linear registration aka Spatialnormalisation FMRIB Technical Report TR07JA2. In Practice, (June), 22. Retrieved from
Anwander, A., Tittgemeyer, M., Von Cramon, D. Y., Friederici, A. D., & Knösche, T. R., (2007). Connectivity-Based Parcellation of Broca's Area, Cerebral Cortex, 17, 816–25
Beaulieu, C. (2002). The basis of anisotropic water diffusion in the nervous system - a technical review. NMR in Biomedicine, 15 (7-8), 435455.
Barac, R., & Bialystok, E. (2012). Bilingual effects on cognitive and linguistic development: Role of language, cultural background, and education, 83 (2), 413422.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16 (4), 240250.
Bialystok, E., Barac, R., Blaye, A., & Poulin-Dubois, D. (2010). Word Mapping and Executive Functioning in Young Monolingual and Bilingual Children, Journal of Cognition and Development, 11:4, 485508, DOI: 10.1080/15248372.2010.516420
Bialystok, E., & Viswanathan, M. (2009). Components of executive control with advantages for bilingual children in two cultures. Cognition, 112 (3), 494500.
Catani, M., Jones, D. K., & Ffytche, D. H. (2005). Perisylvian language networks of the human brain. Annals of Neurology, 57 (1), 816.
Chee, M. W. L., Caplan, D., Soon, C. S., Sriram, N., Tan, E. W. L., Thiel, T., & Weekes, B. S. (1999). Processing of visually presented sentences in Mandarin and English studied with fMRI. Neuron, 23 (1), 127137.
Chee, M. W. L., Weekes, B. S., Lee, K. M., Soon, C. S., Schreiber, A., Hoon, J. J., & Chee, M. (2000). Overlap and dissociation of semantic processing of Chinese characters, English words, and pictures: Evidence from fMRI. NeuroImage, 12, 392403.
Cherodath, S., & Singh, N. C. (2015). The influence of orthographic depth on reading networks in simultaneous biliterate children. Brain and Language, 143 (May).
Cummine, J., & Boliek, C. A. (2013). Understanding white matter integrity stability for bilinguals on language status and reading performance. Brain Structure and Function, 218 (2), 595601.
Das, T., Padakannaya, P., Pugh, K. R., & Singh, N. C. (2011). Neuroimaging reveals dual routes to reading in simultaneous proficient readers of two orthographies. NeuroImage, 54 (2), 14761487.
Dehaene, S., Dupoux, E., Mehler, J., Cohen, C. A. L., Paulesu, E., Perani, D., et al. (1997). Anatomical variability in the cortical representation of first and second language. Neuroreport. 8 (17), 3809–15.
Dick, A. S., & Tremblay, P. (2012). Beyond the arcuate fasciculus: consensus and controversy in the connectional anatomy of language.
Elmer, S., Hanggi, J., Meyer, M., & Jancke, L., 2011. Differential language expertise related to white matter architecture in regions subserving sensory-motor coupling, articulation, and interhemispheric transfer. Hum. Brain Mapp. 32 (12), 20642074.
Forster, K. I., & Forster, J. C. (2003). DMDX: a windows display program with millisecond accuracy. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers: A Journal of the Psychonomic Society, 35 (1), 116124.
Fox, R. J., Sakaie, K., Lee, J., Debbins, J. P., Arnold, D. L., Melhem, E. R., Philips, M. D., &Lowe, M. (2012). A validation study of multicenter Diffusion Tensor Imaging: Reliability of fractional anisotropy and diffusivity values. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 33, 695700.
Friederici, A. D. (2011). The brain basis of language processing: from structure to function. Physiological Reviews.91 (4), 13571392.
García-Pentón, L., Pérez Fernández, A., Iturria-Medina, Y., Gillon-Dowens, M., & Carreiras, M. (2014). Anatomical connectivity changes in the bilingual brain. NeuroImage, 84, 495504.
Gold, B. T., Johnson, N. F., & Powell, D. K. (2013). Lifelong bilingualism contributes to cognitive reserve against white matter integrity declines in aging. Neuropsychologia, 51 (13), 28412846.
Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 515530.
Grosjean, F. (2010). The extent of bilingualism. In Grosjean, F., Bilingual: Life and Reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hämäläinen, S., Sairanen, V., Leminen, A., & Lehtonen, M. (2017). Bilingualism modulates the white matter structure of language-related pathways. NeuroImage, 152, 249257.
Hartzell, J. F., Davis, B., Melcher, D., Miceli, G., Jovicich, J., Nath, T., Hasson, U. (2015). Brains of verbal memory specialists show anatomical differences in language, memory and visual systems. NeuroImage.
Hickok, G., & Poeppel, D. (2004). Dorsal and ventral streams: a framework for understanding aspects of the functional anatomy of language. Cognition, 92, 6799.
Hickok, G., & Poeppel, D. (2007). The cortical organization of speech processing. Nat Rev Neurosci, 8, 393402.
Hosoda, C., Tanaka, K., Nariai, T., Honda, M., & Hanakawa, T. (2013). Dynamic neural network reorganization associated with second language vocabulary acquisition: A multimodal imaging study. Journal of Neuroscience, 33 (34), 1366313672.
Hull, R., & Vaid, J. (2006). Laterality and language experience. Laterality, 11 (5), 436–64.
Jones, D. K., Knösche, T. R., & Turner, R. (2013). White matter integrity, fiber count, and other fallacies: The do's and don'ts of diffusion MRI. NeuroImage, 73, 239254.
Kamali, A., Flanders, A., Brody, J., Hunter, J., & Khader, H. (2014). Tracing Superior Longitudinal Fasciculus Connectivity in the Human Brain using High Resolution Diffusion Tensor Tractography. Brain Structure and Function, 219 (1), 121.
Kuhl, P. K., Richards, T. L., Stevenson, J., Can, D. D., Wroblewski, L., Fish, M. S., & Mizrahi, J. (2013). White-matter microstructure differs in adult bilingual and monolingual brains. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 134, 4249.
Luk, G., Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Grady, C. L. (2011). Lifelong bilingualism maintains white matter integrity in older adults. Journal of Neuroscience, 31 (46), 1680816813.
Mohades, S. G., Struys, E., Van Schuerbeek, P., Mondt, K., Van De Craen, P., & Luypaert, R. (2012). DTI reveals structural differences in white matter tracts between bilingual and monolingual children. Brain Research, 1435, 7280.
Mori, S., Oishi, K., Jiang, H., Jiang, L., Li, X., Akhter, K., et al. (2008). Stereotaxic white matter atlas based on diffusion tensor imaging in an ICBM template. Neuroimage, 40, 570582.
Mechelli, A., Crinion, J. T., Noppeney, U., Doherty, J. O., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S., & Price, C. J. (2004). Structural plasticity in the bilingual brain. Nature, 431, 757.
Mori, S., & Zhang, J. (2006). Principles of diffusion tensor imaging and its applications to basic neuroscience research. Neuron, 51, 527539.
Noble, K. G., Korgaonkar, M. S., Grieve, S. M., & Brickman, A. M. (2013). Higher education is an age-independent predictor of white matter integrity and cognitive control in late adolescence. Developmental Science.16, 653664.
Pliatsikas, C., Moschopoulou, E., & Saddy, J. D. (2015). The effects of bilingualism on the white matter structure of the brain. PNAS, 112 (5), 13341337.doi: 10.1073/pnas.1414183112
Qi, Z., Han, M., Garel, K., San, E., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2015). White-matter structure in the right hemisphere predicts Mandarin Chinese learning success. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 33, 1428.
Rossi, A. S. U., de Moura, L. M., de Mello, C. B., de Souza, A. A. L., Muszkat, M., & Bueno, O. F. A. (2015). Attentional profiles and white matter correlates in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder predominantly inattentive type. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 6, 122.
Sagi, Y., Tavor, I., Hofstetter, S., Tzur-Moryosef, S., Blumenfeld-Katzir, T., & Assaf, Y. (2012). Learning in the fast lane: New insights into neuroplasticity. Neuron, 73 (6), 11951203.
Sanfilipo, M. P., Benedict, R. H. B., Zivadinov, R., & Bakshi, R. (2004). Correction for intracranial volume in analysis of whole brain atrophy in multiple sclerosis: the proportion versus residual method. Neuroimage, 22 (4), 17321743.
Saur, D., Kreher, B. W., Schnell, S., Kummerer, D., Kellmeyer, P., Vry, M. S., . . . Weiller, C. (2008). Ventral and dorsal pathways for language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (46), 1803518040.
Schlegel, A. A., Rudelson, J. J., & Tse, P. U. (2012). White matter structure changes as adults learn a second language. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24 (8), 16641670.
Schmahmann, J. D., & Pandya, D. N. (2006). Fiber Pathways of the Brain. Oxford University Press, (Part IV).
Smith, S. M. (2002). Fast robust automated brain extraction. Human Brain Mapping, 17 (3), 143155.
Smith, S. M., Jenkinson, M., Johansen-Berg, H., Rueckert, D., Nichols, T. E., Mackay, C. E., & Behrens, T. E. J. (2006). Tract-based spatial statistics: voxel wise analysis of multi-subject diffusion data. NeuroImage, 31 (4), 1487–505.h
Smith, S. M., & Nichols, T. E. (2009). Threshold-free cluster enhancement: addressing problems of smoothing, threshold dependence and localisation in cluster inference. NeuroImage, 44, 8398.
Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A Standardized Set of 260 Pictures: Norms for Name Agreement, Image Agreement, Familiarity, and Visual Complexity. Behaviour Research Methods, 6 (2), 174215.
Soares, J. M., Marques, P., Alves, V., & Sousa, N. (2013). A hitchhiker's guide to diffusion tensor imaging. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7, 114.
Song, S. K., Sharma, N., Buch, E. R., & Cohen, L. G. (2012). White matter microstructural correlates of superior long-term skill gained implicitly under randomized practice. Cerebral Cortex, 22, 16711677 doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr247
Song, S. K., Yoshino, J., Le, T. Q., Lin, S.-J., Sun, S.-W., Cross, A. H., & Armstrong, R. C. (2005). Demyelination increases radial diffusivity in corpus callosum of mouse brain. NeuroImage, 26 (1), 132140.
Strenziok, M., Greenwood, P. M., Santa Cruz, S. A., Thompson, J. C., & Parasuraman, R. (2013). Differential contributions of dorso-ventral and rostro-caudal prefrontal white matter tracts to cognitive control in healthy older adults. PloS, 8 (12), e81410. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081410
Tamnes, C. K., Fjell, A. M., Westlye, L. T., Østby, Y., & Walhovd, K. B. (2012). Becoming consistent: developmental reductions in intraindividual variability in reaction time are related to white matter integrity. Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (3), 972–82. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4779-11.2012
Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Nouchi, R., Hashizume, H., Sekiguchi, A., Kotozaki, Y., & Kawashima, R. (2014). Working memory training impacts the mean diffusivity in the dopaminergic system. Brain Structure and Function, 220 (6), 31013111.
Thiebaut de Schotten, M., Acqua, F. D., Forkel, S. J., Simmons, A., Vergani, F., Murphy, D. G. M., & Catani, M. (2011). A lateralized brain network for visuospatial attention. Nature Neuroscience. 14 (10), 12451247.
Wang, L., & Weekes, B. S. (2014). Neural correlates of the Simon effect modulated by practice with spatial mapping. Neuropsychologia, 63, 7284.
Weekes, B. S., Coltheart, M., & Gordon, E. V. (1997). Deep dyslexia and right hemisphere reading: A regional cerebral blood-flow study. Aphasiology, 11 (12), 11391158.
Wycoco, V., Shroff, M., Sudhaka, S., & Lee, W. (2013). White matter anatomy: what the radiologist needs to know. Neuroimaging Clinics of North America.23, 197216.doi:10.1016/j.nic.2012.12.002
Xiang, H., Leeuwen, T. M., Van Dediu, D., Norris, D. G., & Hagoort, P. (2015). L2 Proficiency dependent laterality shift in structural connectivity of brain language pathways, 5 (6), 349361.
Zatorre, R. J., Fields, R. D., & Johansen-Berg, H. (2012). Plasticity in gray and white: neuroimaging changes in brain structure during learning. Nature Publishing Group, 15 (4), 528536.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed