Spatiotemporal maps of past-tense verb inflection

Neuroimage. 2003 May;19(1):91-100. doi: 10.1016/s1053-8119(03)00047-8.


Does the brain inflect verbs by applying rules, by associative retrieval of the inflected form, or both? We used whole-head magnetoencephalography to spatiotemporally map the brain response underlying verb past-tense inflection. Placing either regular or irregular verbs into the past tense sequentially modulates the bilateral visual, left inferotemporal, posterior superior temporal (Wernicke's area), left inferior prefrontal (Broca's area), and right prefrontal cortices. Although irregular and regular verb inflection evokes similar cortical response patterns, differences in specific frontotemporal regions are observed. At approximately 340 ms, irregular verbs evoke greater response modulation in left occipitotemporal cortex. This modulation occurs when widespread areas are simultaneously active, suggesting that it reflects associative activation necessary for generation of past-tense forms. Subsequently, regular verbs show increased response at approximately 470 ms within left inferior prefrontal regions associated with rule-based inflection. Increased right dorsolateral prefrontal response at approximately 570 ms may represent directed/effortful retrieval of irregular past-tense forms. Thus, the brain inflects verbs by dynamically modulating different functional divisions of an integrated language system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography*
  • Male
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*