Executive semantic processing is underpinned by a large-scale neural network: revealing the contribution of left prefrontal, posterior temporal, and parietal cortex to controlled retrieval and selection using TMS

J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Jan;24(1):133-47. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00123. Epub 2011 Aug 23.


To understand the meanings of words and objects, we need to have knowledge about these items themselves plus executive mechanisms that compute and manipulate semantic information in a task-appropriate way. The neural basis for semantic control remains controversial. Neuroimaging studies have focused on the role of the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG), whereas neuropsychological research suggests that damage to a widely distributed network elicits impairments of semantic control. There is also debate about the relationship between semantic and executive control more widely. We used TMS in healthy human volunteers to create "virtual lesions" in structures typically damaged in patients with semantic control deficits: LIFG, left posterior middle temporal gyrus (pMTG), and intraparietal sulcus (IPS). The influence of TMS on tasks varying in semantic and nonsemantic control demands was examined for each region within this hypothesized network to gain insights into (i) their functional specialization (i.e., involvement in semantic representation, controlled retrieval, or selection) and (ii) their domain dependence (i.e., semantic or cognitive control). The results revealed that LIFG and pMTG jointly support both the controlled retrieval and selection of semantic knowledge. IPS specifically participates in semantic selection and responds to manipulations of nonsemantic control demands. These observations are consistent with a large-scale semantic control network, as predicted by lesion data, that draws on semantic-specific (LIFG and pMTG) and domain-independent executive components (IPS).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cues
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reading
  • Semantics*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult