The cortical distribution of first and second language in the right hemisphere of bilinguals – an exploratory study by repetitive navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation

  • Lorena Tussis
  • Nico Sollmann
  • Tobias Boeckh-Behrens
  • Bernhard Meyer
  • Sandro M. KriegEmail author


First language (L1) and second language (L2) processing in bilinguals is not yet fully understood, especially not when considering the non-dominant hemisphere. Ten healthy, right-handed volunteers underwent language mapping of the right hemisphere by repetitive navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation and an object-naming task in their L1 and L2. All elicited naming errors together, no responses, and all errors without hesitation were analyzed separately for cortical distributions of error rates (ERs: number of errors divided by the number of applied stimulations). No significant differences (p > 0.05) were found in ERs between the L1 and L2 for all errors (L1 20.6 ± 14.8%, L2 15.4 ± 11.2%), no responses (L1 13.5 ± 10.9%, L2 9.2 ± 10.8%), and all errors without hesitation (L1 14.4 ± 11.2%, L2 10.8 ± 10.0%). The areas that showed high ERs for the L1 included the dorsal precentral and middle precentral gyrus, whereas the triangular inferior frontal gyrus showed high ERs for the L2. When focusing on error distributions per single stimulation points, differences in ERs between the L1 and L2 were initially observed for stimulation within the angular and middle middle frontal gyrus, but did not withstand correction for the false discovery rate (FDR-corrected p > 0.05). In conclusion, this exploratory study shows the feasibility of rTMS to the right hemisphere for language mapping and reveals cortical areas involved in L1 and L2 processing, but has to be followed up by larger studies enrolling more homogeneous cohorts.


Bilingualism Cortical mapping Navigated brain stimulation Object naming Right hemisphere Transcranial magnetic stimulation 



Cortical parcellation system


Diffusion tensor imaging fiber tracking


Edinburgh Handedness Inventory


Error rate


False discovery rate


First language


Second language


Left hemisphere


Magnetic resonance imaging


Right hemisphere


Resting motor threshold


Repetitive navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation


Visual analogue scale



We thank Dr. Lucia Albers for her statistical advice.


The study was primarily financed by institutional grants from the Department of Neurosurgery and the Department of Neuroradiology.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

SK is consultant for Brainlab AG (Munich, Germany) and Nexstim Plc (Helsinki, Finland). NS received honoraria from Nexstim Plc (Helsinki, Finland).

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurosurgery, Klinikum rechts der IsarTechnische Universität MünchenMunichGermany
  2. 2.TUM-Neuroimaging Center, Klinikum rechts der IsarTechnische Universität MünchenMunichGermany
  3. 3.Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology, Klinikum rechts der IsarTechnische Universität MünchenMunichGermany

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