A procedure for identifying regions preferentially activated by attention to semantic and phonological relations using functional magnetic resonance imaging

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(3):293-303. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(02)00162-8.


A procedure is introduced for using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques to identify neural regions associated with attention to semantic and phonological aspects of written words within a single group of subjects. Short lists (16 words/list), consisting of visually-presented semantically-related words (bed, rest) or rhyming words (weep, beep) were presented rapidly to subjects, who were asked to attend to the relations among the words. Regions preferentially involved in attention to semantic relations appeared within left anterior/ventral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG, approximate Brodmann Area, BA47), left posterior/dorsal IFG (BA44/45), left superior/middle temporal cortex (BA22/21), left fusiform gyrus (BA37), and right cerebellum. Regions preferentially involved in attention to phonological relations appeared within left inferior frontal cortex (near BA6/44, posterior to the semantic regions within IFG described above) and within bilateral inferior parietal cortex (BA40) and precuneus (BA7). This method is notable in that a comparison of the two tasks within some of the individual subjects revealed activation patterns similar to the group average, especially within left inferior frontal and left superior/middle parietal cortices. This fact combined with the efficiency with which the data can be obtained (here, in about an hour of functional scanning) and the adaptability of the task for many different subject populations suggests a wide range of possibilities for this technique: it could be used to track language development (e.g. in children), compare language organization across subject populations (e.g. for dyslexic or blind subjects), and identify language regions within individuals (e.g. potentially to aid in surgical planning).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Phonetics*
  • Reading
  • Semantics*