The neurobiology of semantic memory

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Nov;15(11):527-36. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.10.001. Epub 2011 Oct 14.


Semantic memory includes all acquired knowledge about the world and is the basis for nearly all human activity, yet its neurobiological foundation is only now becoming clear. Recent neuroimaging studies demonstrate two striking results: the participation of modality-specific sensory, motor, and emotion systems in language comprehension, and the existence of large brain regions that participate in comprehension tasks but are not modality-specific. These latter regions, which include the inferior parietal lobe and much of the temporal lobe, lie at convergences of multiple perceptual processing streams. These convergences enable increasingly abstract, supramodal representations of perceptual experience that support a variety of conceptual functions including object recognition, social cognition, language, and the remarkable human capacity to remember the past and imagine the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neurobiology*
  • Semantics*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*