Sequential processing of lexical, grammatical, and phonological information within Broca's area

Science. 2009 Oct 16;326(5951):445-9. doi: 10.1126/science.1174481.


Words, grammar, and phonology are linguistically distinct, yet their neural substrates are difficult to distinguish in macroscopic brain regions. We investigated whether they can be separated in time and space at the circuit level using intracranial electrophysiology (ICE), namely by recording local field potentials from populations of neurons using electrodes implanted in language-related brain regions while people read words verbatim or grammatically inflected them (present/past or singular/plural). Neighboring probes within Broca's area revealed distinct neuronal activity for lexical (approximately 200 milliseconds), grammatical (approximately 320 milliseconds), and phonological (approximately 450 milliseconds) processing, identically for nouns and verbs, in a region activated in the same patients and task in functional magnetic resonance imaging. This suggests that a linguistic processing sequence predicted on computational grounds is implemented in the brain in fine-grained spatiotemporally patterned activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Linguistics*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Time Factors