The neural correlates of verb and noun processing A PET study
Cappa, Stefano F.
Schnur, Tatiana T.
Rosa, Mario Miguel
The hypothesis that categorical information, distinguishing among word classes, such as nouns, verbs, etc., is an organizational principle of lexical knowledge in the brain, is supported by the observation of aphasic subjects who are selectively impaired in the processing of nouns and verbs. The study lesion location in these patients has suggested that the left temporal lobe plays a crucial role in processing nouns, while the left frontal lobe is necessary for verbs. To delineate the brain areas involved in the processing of different word classes, we used PET to measure regional cerebral activity during tasks requiring reading of concrete and abstract nouns and verbs for lexical decision. These tasks activated an extensive network of brain areas, mostly in the left frontal and temporal cortex, which represents the neural correlate of single word processing. Some left hemispheric areas, including the dorsolateral frontal and lateral temporal cortex, were activated only by verbs, while there were no brain areas more active in response to nouns. Furthermore, the comparison of abstract and concrete words indicated that abstract word processing was associated with selective activations (right temporal pole and amygdala, bilateral inferior frontal cortex), while no brain areas were more active in response to concrete words. There were no significant interaction effects between word class and concreteness. Taken together, these findings are compatible with the view that lexical-semantic processing of words is mediated by an extensive, predominantly left hemispheric network of brain structures. Additional brain activations appear to be related to specific semantic content, or, in the case of verbs, may be associated with the automatic access of syntactic information.