Increased neural activity in left angular gyrus (AG) accompanies successful comprehension of acoustically degraded but highly predictable sentences, as previous functional imaging studies have shown. However, it remains unclear whether the left AG is causally relevant for the comprehension of degraded speech. Here, we applied transient virtual lesions to either the left AG or superior parietal lobe (SPL, as a control area) with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) while healthy volunteers listened to and repeated sentences with high- versus low-predictable endings and different noise vocoding levels. We expected that rTMS of AG should selectively modulate the predictability gain (i.e., the comprehension benefit from sentences with high-predictable endings) at a medium degradation level. We found that rTMS of AG indeed reduced the predictability gain at a medium degradation level of 4-band noise vocoding (relative to control rTMS of SPL). In contrast, the behavioral perturbation induced by rTMS changed with increased signal quality. Hence, at 8-band noise vocoding, rTMS over AG versus SPL decreased the number of correctly repeated keywords for sentences with low-predictable endings. Together, these results show that the degree of the rTMS interference depended jointly on signal quality and predictability. Our results provide the first causal evidence that the left AG is a critical node for facilitating speech comprehension in challenging listening conditions.
Keywords: K-factor; Language; Parietal cortex; Transcranial magnetic stimulation; Virtual lesion.
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