The neural systems of tool and action semantics: a perspective from functional imaging

J Physiol Paris. 2008 Jan-May;102(1-3):40-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2008.03.009. Epub 2008 Apr 8.


This review discusses the contributions of functional imaging (fMRI/PET) to our understanding of how action and tool concepts are represented and processed in the human brain. Category-selective deficits in neuropsychological patients have suggested a fine-grained functional specialization within the neural systems of semantics. However, the underlying principles of semantic organization remain controversial. The feature-based account of semantic memory (or 'sensory-motor theory') predicates category-selective effects (e.g. tool vs. animals) on anatomical segregation for different semantic features (e.g. action vs. visual). Within this framework, we will review functional imaging evidence that semantic processing of tools and actions may rely on activations within the visuo-motor system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping*
  • Brain* / blood supply
  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Semantics*