Handb Clin Neurol. 2013:116:681-91. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53497-2.00054-1.


Noninvasive focal brain stimulation by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been used extensively in the past 20 years to investigate normal language functions. The picture emerging from this collection of empirical works is that of several independent modular functions mapped on left-lateralized temporofrontal circuits originating dorsally or ventrally to the auditory cortex. The identification of sounds as language (i.e., phonological transformations) is modulated by TMS applied over the posterior-superior temporal cortex and over the caudal inferior frontal gyrus/ventral premotor cortex complex. Conversely, attribution of semantics to words is modulated successfully by applying TMS to the rostral part of the inferior frontal gyrus. Speech production is typically interfered with by TMS applied to the left inferior frontal gyrus, onto the same cortical areas that also contain phonological representations. The cortical mapping of grammatical functions has been investigated with TMS mainly regarding the category of verbs, which seem to be represented in the left middle frontal gyrus. Most TMS studies have investigated the cortical processing of single words or sublexical elements. Conversely, complex elements of language such as syntax have not been investigated extensively, although a few studies have indicated a left temporal, frontal, and parietal system also involving the neocerebellar cortex. Finally, both the perception and production of nonlinguistic communicative properties of speech, such as prosody, have been mapped by TMS in the peri-Silvian region of the right hemisphere.

Keywords: Broca's area; Wernicke's area; aphasia; arcuate fasciculus; brain mapping; language; neurophysiology; phonology; speech; transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*
  • Verbal Learning