The brain basis of syntactic processes: functional imaging and lesion studies

Neuroimage. 2003 Nov:20 Suppl 1:S8-17. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.09.003.


Language comprehension can be subdivided into three processing steps: initial structure building, semantic integration, and late syntactic integration. The two syntactic processing phases are correlated with two distinct components in the event-related brain potential, namely an early left anterior negativity (ELAN) and a late centroparietal positivity (P600). Moreover, ERP findings from healthy adults suggest that early structure-building processes as reflected by the ELAN are independent of semantic processes. fMRI results have revealed that semantic and syntactic processes are supported by separable temporofrontal networks, with the syntactic processes involving the left superior temporal gyrus (STG), the left frontal operculum, and the basal ganglia (BG) in particular. MEG data from healthy adults have indicated that the left anterior temporal region and the left inferior frontal region subserve the early structure building processes. ERP data from patients with lesions in the left anterior temporal region and from patients with lesions in the left inferior frontal gyrus support this view, as these patients do not demonstrate an ELAN, although they do demonstrate a P600. Further results from patients with BG dysfunction suggest that parts of this subcortical structure are involved in late syntactic integrational processes. The data from the different experiments lead to the notion of separable brain systems responsible for early and late syntactic processes, with the former being subserved by the inferior frontal gyrus and the anterior STG and the latter being supported by the BG and more posterior portions of the STG.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological
  • Reference Values