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Language difficulties have been reported in children and adolescents who were born very preterm (<32 weeks' gestation) and associated with an atypical lateralization of language processing, i.e., increased right-hemispheric engagement. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and spherical deconvolution tractography to study the hemodynamic responses associated with verbal fluency processing (easy and hard letter trials) and verbal fluency-related white matter fiber tracts in 64 very preterm born adults and 36 adult controls (mean age: 30 years). Tractography of the arcuate fasciculus (AF) and frontal aslant tract (FAT) was performed. Tracts were quantified in terms of mean volume, hindrance modulated orientational anisotropy, and lateralization, assessed using a laterality index (LI) to indicate hemispheric dominance. During verbal fluency fMRI, very preterm participants displayed decreased hemodynamic response suppression in both the Easy > Rest and Hard > Rest conditions, compared to controls, in superior temporal gyrus (STG), insula, thalamus, and sensorimotor cortex, particularly in the right hemisphere. At the whole-group level, decreased hemodynamic response suppression in the right sensorimotor cortex was associated with worse on-line performance on the hard letter trials. Increased left-laterality in the AF was present alongside increased right hemispheric hemodynamic response suppression in controls. When only right-handed participants were considered, decreased hemodynamic response suppression in the right STG during hard letter trials was related to weaker left and right FAT white matter integrity in the preterm group only. These results show that verbal fluency is affected by altered functional lateralization in adults who were born very preterm.

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fMRI, lateralization, verbal fluency, very preterm