Dissociable neural imprints of perception and grammar in auditory functional imaging

Hum Brain Mapp. 2012 Mar;33(3):584-95. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21235. Epub 2011 Mar 9.


In language processing, the relative contribution of early sensory and higher cognitive brain areas is still an open issue. A recent controversial hypothesis proposes that sensory cortices show sensitivity to syntactic processes, whereas other studies suggest a wider neural network outside sensory regions. The goal of the current event-related fMRI study is to clarify the contribution of sensory cortices in auditory syntactic processing in a 2 × 2 design. Two-word utterances were presented auditorily and varied both in perceptual markedness (presence or absence of an overt word category marking "-t"), and in grammaticality (syntactically correct or incorrect). A multivariate pattern classification approach was applied to the data, flanked by conventional cognitive subtraction analyses. The combination of methods and the 2 × 2 design revealed a clear picture: The cognitive subtraction analysis found initial syntactic processing signatures in a neural network including the left IFG, the left aSTG, the left superior temporal sulcus (STS), as well as the right STS/STG. Classification of local multivariate patterns indicated the left-hemispheric regions in IFG, aSTG, and STS to be more syntax-specific than the right-hemispheric regions. Importantly, auditory sensory cortices were only sensitive to the overt perceptual marking, but not to the grammaticality, speaking against syntax-inflicted sensory cortex modulations. Instead, our data provide clear evidence for a distinction between regions involved in pure perceptual processes and regions involved in initial syntactic processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult