Neural basis for sentence comprehension: grammatical and short-term memory components

Hum Brain Mapp. 2002 Feb;15(2):80-94. doi: 10.1002/hbm.10006.


We monitored regional cerebral activity with BOLD fMRI while subjects were presented written sentences differing in their grammatical structure (subject-relative or object-relative center-embedded clauses) and their short-term memory demands (short or long antecedent-gap linkages). A core region of left posterior superior temporal cortex was recruited during all sentence conditions in comparison to a pseudofont baseline, suggesting that this area plays a central role in sustaining comprehension that is common to all sentences. Right posterior superior temporal cortex was recruited during sentences with long compared to short antecedent-gap linkages regardless of grammatical structure, suggesting that this brain region supports passive short-term memory during sentence comprehension. Recruitment of left inferior frontal cortex was most clearly associated with sentences that featured both an object-relative clause and a long antecedent-gap linkage, suggesting that this region supports the cognitive resources required to maintain long-distance syntactic dependencies during the comprehension of grammatically complex sentences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reading*
  • Temporal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*