The Lab

Language experience and the brain laboratory

Montreal Neurological Institute



Denise Klein, Ph.D., Principal Investigator

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.

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.
Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Montreal Neurological Institute, Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University
Phone: 514 398 3134
Fax: 514 398 1338
Email: denise.klein [at]


Research associates

Elise Barbeau (collaborating with Dr. Michael Petrides)


Jen-Kai Chen


Shanna Kousaie


Postdoctoral student

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



Ph. D. students

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


Kaija Sander (co-supervised by Drs. Shari Baum and Michael Petrides)


Masters students

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


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


Paul Noel Rousseau  (co-supervised by Dr. Virginia Penhune)



Jonathan Berken (Medical student, University of Pittsburgh)


Xiaoqian Chai (Faculty at Johns Hopkins University)


Lara Pierce (Postdoctoral student at Harvard University)


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