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Hippocampus. 2005;15(4):451-9.

Language processing within the human medial temporal lobe.

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Department of Psychology, Experimental Neuropsychology Unit, Saarland University, PO Box 15-11-50, Saarbr├╝cken D-66041, Germany.


Although the hippocampal formation is essential for verbal memory, it is not fully understood how it contributes to language comprehension. We recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) directly from two substructures of the medial temporal lobe (MTL), the rhinal cortex and the hippocampus proper, while epilepsy patients listened to sentences that either were correct or contained semantic or syntactic violations. Semantic violations elicited a large negative ERP response peaking at approximately 400 ms in the rhinal cortex. In contrast, syntactically incorrect sentences elicited a negative deflection of 500-800 ms in the hippocampus proper. The results suggest that functionally distinct aspects of integration in language comprehension are supported by different MTL structures: the rhinal cortex is involved in semantic integration, whereas the hippocampus proper subserves processes of syntactic integration. An analysis of phase synchronization within the gamma band between rhinal and hippocampal recording sites showed that both of the above-mentioned ERP components were preceded by an increase of phase synchronization. In contrast to these short phasic increases of phase synchronization in both violation conditions, correct sentences were associated with a long-lasting synchronization in a late time window, possibly reflecting the integration of semantic and syntactic information as required for normal comprehension.

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