The human brain is thought to elicit an object representation via co-activation of neural regions that encode various object features. The cortical regions and mechanisms involved in this process have never been elucidated for the semantic system. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate regions activated during a task designed to elicit object activation within the semantic system (e.g., presenting the words “desert” and “humps” with the task to determine if they combine to form an object, in this case a “camel”). There were signal changes in the thalamus for word pairs that activated an object, but not for pairs that (a) failed to activate an object, (b) were simply semantically associated, or (c) were members of the same category. These results suggest that the thalamus has a critical role in coordinating the cortical activity required for activating an object concept in the semantic system.

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