Paul Broca's historic cases: High resolution MR imaging of the brains of Leborgne and Lelong

Nina Dronkers, O. Plaisant, M. T. Iba-Zizen, E. A. Cabanis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

295 Scopus citations


In 1861, the French surgeon, Pierre Paul Broca, described two patients who had lost the ability to speak after injury to the posterior inferior frontal gyrus of the brain. Since that time, an infinite number of clinical and functional imaging studies have relied on this brain-behaviour relationship as their anchor for the localization of speech functions. Clinical studies of Broca's aphasia often assume that the deficits in these patients are due entirely to dysfunction in Broca's area, thereby attributing all aspects of the disorder to this one brain region. Moreover, functional imaging studies often rely on activation in Broca's area as verification that tasks have successfully tapped speech centres. Despite these strong assumptions, the range of locations ascribed to Broca's area varies broadly across studies. In addition, recent findings with language-impaired patients have suggested that other regions also play a role in speech production, some of which are medial to the area originally described by Broca on the lateral surface of the brain. Given the historical significance of Broca's original patients and the increasing reliance on Broca's area as a major speech centre, we thought it important to re-inspect these brains to determine the precise location of their lesions as well as other possible areas of damage. Here we describe the results of high resolution magnetic resonance imaging of the preserved brains of Broca's two historic patients. We found that both patients' lesions extended significantly into medial regions of the brain, in addition to the surface lesions observed by Broca. Results also indicate inconsistencies between the area originally identified by Broca and what is now called Broca's area, a finding with significant ramifications for both lesion and functional neuroimaging studies of this well-known brain area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1432-1441
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Aphasia
  • Broca
  • History
  • Language
  • Magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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