To distinguish areas involved in the processing of word meaning (semantics) from other regions involved in lexical processing more generally, subjects were scanned with positron emission tomography (PET) while performing lexical tasks, three of which required varying degrees of semantic analysis and one that required phonological analysis. Three closely apposed regions in the left inferior frontal cortex and one in the right cerebellum were significantly active above baseline in the semantic tasks, but not in the nonsemantic task. The activity in two of the frontal regions was modulated by the difficulty of the semantic judgment. Other regions, including some in the left temporal cortex and the cerebellum, were active across all four language tasks. Thus, in addition to a number of regions known to be active during language processing, regions in the left inferior frontal cortex were specifically recruited during semantic processing in a task-dependent manner. A region in the right cerebellum may be functionally related to those in the left inferior frontal cortex. Discussion focuses on the implications of these results for current views regarding neural substrates of semantic processing.

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