Language experience and the brain laboratory

Montreal Neurological Institute


Denise Klein, Ph.D., Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery

The main focus in the lab is to explore how our early experience with language impacts the human brain, higher cognitive functions, and learning.  Our research combines behavioral methods with neuroimaging to investigate how neural recruitment is influenced by the age of acquisition/exposure, proficiency in the language, and the distinctive characteristics of languages. We seek to enhance our understanding of critical-period phenomena and neural plasticity in the human brain. The program of research addresses the extent to which the human brain has the capacity to change as a result of learning. Here, we specifically investigate the extent to which the neural patterns are fixed and the extent to which the patterns can be altered later in life. The results of these studies reveal the neural underpinnings of human brain development in relation to the age of language exposure, and they suggest periods when learning language are most optimal in early life.

A second focus in the lab is to use our work based on basic science to develop tools and questions related to presurgical and pre-treatment brain mapping in patients with various neurological disorders. In our lab we use neuroimaging tools to help map out functionally important areas for cognition in patients with focal brain lesions who are about to undergo treatment procedures at the Montreal Neurological Hospital involving cortex bordering on important functional brain areas. Our lab is currently responsible for running a pre-treatment functional brain mapping program at the MNI that integrates anatomical MRI, functional MRI and PET to facilitate preoperative diagnostic procedures in patients with brain lesions such as tumours, epileptic foci and vascular malformations that are in close proximity to areas of the brain that are critical to movement, vision, sensation, or language.

A new line of research in the lab involves relating acoustic and linguistic measures extracted from the speech recordings to clinical data such as symptom severity and MEG resting-state data. In a first manuscript we link certain aspects of speech impairment to neurophysiology from patients tested as part of the Quebec Parkinson Network (QPN).  We have also developed an open access tool for rating of speech samples, Audio-Tokens, which allows user-friendly multi-dimensional evaluation of audio samples. This framework has direct implications for translation to neurological disease diagnosis and monitoring because it facilitates assessment of voice quality, articulation and prosody in patients and healthy individuals. 

Denise Klein, Ph.D.

Dr. Denise Klein is a scientist and neuropsychologist in the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, and a Full Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dr. Klein’s thesis research focused on developmental reading problems in bilingual children. Dr. Klein came to the MNI in 1992 as a postdoctoral fellow to work with Dr. Brenda Milner.

Dr. Klein’s current research program aims to understand how language experience influences and shapes brain organization.

Dr. Klein’s lab also uses tasks and tools developed in the lab to run a pre-treatment mapping program at the MNI and does research to assess how different brain lesions impact functional performance on various language and other cognitive tasks.

Dr. Klein is the director of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language, and Music (CRBLM).

Contact Information
Denise Klein, Ph.D.
Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery
Director, Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, McGill University
Neuropsychologist, Cognitive Neuroscience, The Neuro

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Phone: 514 398 3134
Fax: 514 398 1338
Email: denise.klein [at]


Current members

Elise Barbeau (collaborating with Dr. Michael Petrides)


Jen-Kai Chen


Stéphanie Deschamps, Ph.D. student (co-supervised by Dr. Shari Baum)




Shanna Kousaie (Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa)


Daniel Di Giovanni (co-supervised by Dr. Louis Collins)


Kaija Sander (Research Associate, McGill University)


Jasmine Lee (co-supervised by Dr. Shari Baum)


Paul Noel Rousseau (Ph.D. student at Concordia University)


Rebecca Pearse (co-supervised by Dr. Shari Baum)



Lucía Vaquero (co-supervised by Dr. Virginia Penhune)



Jonathan Berken (M.D., Ph.D., Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)


Xiaoqian Chai (CRC Professor at McGill University)


Lara Pierce (Assistant Professor of Psychology, York University)


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