Semantic cognition requires a combination of semantic representations and executive control processes to direct activation in a task- and time-appropriate fashion [Jefferies, E., & Lambon Ralph, M. A. Semantic impairment in stroke aphasia versus semantic dementia: A case-series comparison. Brain, 129, 2132–2147, 2006]. We undertook a formal meta-analysis to investigate which regions within the large-scale semantic network are specifically associated with the executive component of semantic cognition. Previous studies have described in detail the role of left ventral pFC in semantic regulation. We examined 53 studies that contrasted semantic tasks with high > low executive requirements to determine whether cortical regions beyond the left pFC show the same response profile to executive semantic demands. Our findings revealed that right pFC, posterior middle temporal gyrus (pMTG) and dorsal angular gyrus (bordering intraparietal sulcus) were also consistently recruited by executively demanding semantic tasks, demonstrating patterns of activation that were highly similar to the left ventral pFC. These regions overlap with the lesions in aphasic patients who exhibit multimodal semantic impairment because of impaired regulatory control (semantic aphasia)—providing important convergence between functional neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies of semantic cognition. Activation in dorsal angular gyrus and left ventral pFC was consistent across all types of executive semantic manipulation, regardless of whether the task was receptive or expressive, whereas pMTG activation was only observed for manipulation of control demands within receptive tasks. Second, we contrasted executively demanding tasks tapping semantics and phonology. Our findings revealed substantial overlap between the two sets of contrasts within left ventral pFC, suggesting this region underpins domain-general control mechanisms. In contrast, we observed relative specialization for semantic control within pMTG as well as the most ventral aspects of left pFC (BA 47), consistent with our proposal of a distributed network underpinning semantic control.

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