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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2016) 28 (3): 361–378.
Published: 01 March 2016
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AbstractView article PDF
Semantic representations capture the statistics of experience and store this information in memory. A fundamental component of this memory system is knowledge of the visual environment, including knowledge of objects and their associations. Visual semantic information underlies a range of behaviors, from perceptual categorization to cognitive processes such as language and reasoning. Here we examine the neuroanatomic system that encodes visual semantics. Across three experiments, we found converging evidence indicating that knowledge of verbally mediated visual concepts relies on information encoded in a region of the ventral-medial temporal lobe centered on parahippocampal cortex. In an fMRI study, this region was strongly engaged by the processing of concepts relying on visual knowledge but not by concepts relying on other sensory modalities. In a study of patients with the semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia (semantic dementia), atrophy that encompassed this region was associated with a specific impairment in verbally mediated visual semantic knowledge. Finally, in a structural study of healthy adults from the fMRI experiment, gray matter density in this region related to individual variability in the processing of visual concepts. The anatomic location of these findings aligns with recent work linking the ventral-medial temporal lobe with high-level visual representation, contextual associations, and reasoning through imagination. Together, this work suggests a critical role for parahippocampal cortex in linking the visual environment with knowledge systems in the human brain.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2009) 21 (4): 697–712.
Published: 01 April 2009
AbstractView article PDF
Functional imaging studies of single word production have consistently reported activation of the lateral prefrontal and cingulate cortex. Its contribution has been shown to be sensitive to task demands, which can be manipulated by the degree of response specification. Compared with classical verbal fluency, free word association relies less on response restrictions but to a greater extent on associative binding processes, usually subserved by the hippocampus. To elucidate the relevance of the frontal and medial-temporal areas during verbal retrieval tasks, we applied varying degrees of response specification. During fMRI data acquisition, 18 subjects performed a free verbal association (FVA), a semantic verbal fluency (SVF) task, and a phonological verbal fluency (PVF) task. Externally guided word production served as a baseline condition to control for basic articulatory and reading processes. As expected, increased brain activity was observed in the left lateral and bilateral medial frontal cortices for SVF and PVF. The anterior cingulate gyrus was the only structure common to both fluency tasks in direct comparison to the less restricted FVA task. The hippocampus was engaged during associative and semantic retrieval. Interestingly, hippocampal activity was selectively evident during FVA in direct comparison to SVF when it was controlled for stimulus–response relations. The current data confirm the role of the left prefrontal–cingulate network in constrained word production. Hippocampal activity during spontaneous word production is a novel finding and seems to be dependent on the retrieval process (free vs. constrained) rather than the variety of stimulus–response relationships that is involved.
Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia: Language, Cognitive, and PET Measures Contrasted with Probable Alzheimer's Disease
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (1996) 8 (2): 135–154.
Published: 01 March 1996
AbstractView article PDF
The purpose of this study was to compare the language and cognitive profiles of four progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA) patients with 25 probable Alzheimer's disease (pAD) patients, and to identify the distinct cortical defects associated with cognitive deficits in PNFA using positron emission tomography (PET). Longitudinal observations of PNFA patients revealed progressively telegraphic speech and writing and a gradual deterioration of sentence comprehension, but memory and visual functioning were relatively preserved. Direct contrast with PAD patients revealed that PNFA patients are significantly impaired on grammatical phrase structure aspects of sentence comprehension and expression, phonemic judgments, repetition, and digit span, but not on other cognitive measures. PET studies of PNFA revealed reduced cortical activity throughout the left hemisphere. In addition, there was a prominent defect in left superior and middle temporal and inferior frontal regions of PNFA patients that differed significantly from the distribution of regional cerebral dysfunction in pAD. We conclude that PNFA is associated with a distinct profile of language and cognitive difficulty, and that this pattern of impairment is related to cortical dysfunction in a specific distribution of the left hemisphere.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (1993) 5 (4): 480–498.
Published: 01 October 1993
AbstractView article PDF
Sentence comprehension is a complex process involving at least a grammatical processor and a procedural component that supports language computations. One type of cerebral architecture that may underlie sentence processing is a network of distributed brain regions. We report two experiments designed to evaluate the cognitive and physiological substrate of sentence processing diaculties in nondemented patients with Parkinson's disease (PD). In the first experiment, patients answered simple questions about sentences that varied in their computational demands. Group and individual patient analyses indicated that PD patients are significantly compromised on this task, and that their difficulties become more prominent as the computational demands of the sentences increase. We manipulated the set of sentences to stress performance aspects of sentence processing. PD patients were compromised in their ability to detect errors in the presence and nature of a sentence's grammatical morphemes, suggesting a deficit in selective attention, but their ability to answer questions about a sentence was not afFected by short-term memory factors. In the second experiment, positron emission tomography was used to correlate this pattern of sentence comprehension impairment with regional cerebral glucose metabolism (rCMRgl) obtained at rest in a representative subset of these PD patients. Grammatical comprehension and attention in sentence processing correlated significantly with mesial frontal rCMRgl. Regression analyses confirmed the central role of left mesial frontal cortex, and identified a subsidiary role for left caudate in overall sentence comprehension, for left dorsolateral frontal cortex in grammatical processing, and for bilateral dorsolateral frontal cortex in attending to the presence of grammatical features. We conclude that compromised mesial frontal functioning underlies in part the sentence processing deficit of these patients, and these data illustrate one method for mapping portions of a sentence processing mechanism onto a distributed cerebral architecture.