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Somatotopic representation of action words in human motor and premotor cortex.


Adult, Brain Mapping, Cerebrovascular Circulation, physiology, Fingers, Foot, Functional Laterality, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Language, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Motor Cortex, blood supply, Movement, Psycholinguistics, Tongue

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      Since the early days of research into language and the brain, word meaning was assumed to be processed in specific brain regions, which most modern neuroscientists localize to the left temporal lobe. Here we use event-related fMRI to show that action words referring to face, arm, or leg actions (e.g., to lick, pick, or kick), when presented in a passive reading task, differentially activated areas along the motor strip that either were directly adjacent to or overlapped with areas activated by actual movement of the tongue, fingers, or feet. These results demonstrate that the referential meaning of action words has a correlate in the somatotopic activation of motor and premotor cortex. This rules out a unified "meaning center" in the human brain and supports a dynamic view according to which words are processed by distributed neuronal assemblies with cortical topographies that reflect word semantics.

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