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Neuropsychologia. 2010 May;48(6):1689-96. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.02.016. Epub 2010 Feb 20.

The inferior, anterior temporal lobes and semantic memory clarified: novel evidence from distortion-corrected fMRI.

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1
Neuroscience and Aphasia Research Unit (NARU), Zochonis Building, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M139PL, UK.

Abstract

The neural basis of semantic memory generates considerable debate. Semantic dementia results from bilateral anterior temporal lobe (ATL) atrophy and gives rise to a highly specific impairment of semantic memory, suggesting that this region is a critical neural substrate for semantic processing. Recent rTMS experiments with neurologically-intact participants also indicate that the ATL are a necessary substrate for semantic memory. Exactly which regions within the ATL are important for semantic memory are difficult to detect from these methods (because the damage in SD covers a large part of the ATL). Functional neuroimaging might provide important clues about which specific areas exhibit activation that correlates with normal semantic performance. Neuroimaging studies, however, have not consistently found anterior temporal lobe activation in semantic tasks. A recent meta-analysis indicates that this inconsistency may be due to a collection of technical limitations associated with previous studies, including a reduced field-of-view and magnetic susceptibility artefacts associated with standard gradient echo fMRI. We conducted an fMRI study of semantic memory using a combination of techniques which improve sensitivity to ATL activations whilst preserving whole-brain coverage. As expected from SD patients and ATL rTMS experiments, this method revealed bilateral temporal activation extending from the inferior temporal lobe along the fusiform gyrus to the anterior temporal regions, bilaterally. We suggest that the inferior, anterior temporal lobe region makes a crucial contribution to semantic cognition and utilising this version of fMRI will enable further research on the semantic role of the ATL.

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