Denise Klein, PhD

Director, Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music; Assistant Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine; Neuropsychologist, Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Montreal Neurological Institute
McGill University
514 398 3134

Dr. Denise Klein is a Scientist in the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery and Director of the Centre for Research on Brain Language and Music at McGill University, Montreal. 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 arrival at the MNI coincided with the emerging use of functional neuroimaging techniques to study the neural representation of language. Dr. Klein has played a leading role in the development of the MNI’s cognitive neuroscience research program using positron emission tomography (PET) combined with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and more recently, functional MRI, to measure regional changes in cerebral blood flow during the performance of various language tasks. Dr. Klein’s early work pioneered the use of brain imaging for the study of bilingualism. Her research has provided a springboard for current debates about bilingual brain organization. Her findings also have implications for educational policy and for shedding light on optimal periods for early language exposure and learning in child development.


About the Language experience and the brain laboratory

Denise Klein, Ph.D., Principal Investigator

Language experience and the brain laboratory at the Montreal Neurological Institute

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.